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6 Factors That Influence a Dog's Behavior

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."

Do you know what influences your dog's behaviors?

Do you know what influences your dog's behaviors?

When it comes to evaluating dog behavior and making a careful assessment, a variety of factors come into play. Just as in humans, a dog's personality and temperament are the end result of the interplay of genes and the environment. The nature versus nurture debate applies to the canine world, as well. Is a dog's behavior the result of an intrinsic mix of genes, or is it the result of several experiences the dog has had in this world? It's very likely that both are fundamental factors.

The phrase "nature versus nurture" was coined by anthropologist Francis Galton. The theory emphasizes the importance of innate qualities versus personal experiences. Behavioral traits of dogs may be the result of one or the other or most likely both. There are many factors capable of influencing a dog's behavior and they may have a hereditary or environmental origin. The following are common factors that may influence a dog's behavior.

The Role of Nature

Here is how a dog's basic nature can influence their behavior.

Genetic Influences

A dog's behavior may be influenced by its hereditary baggage. If you mate two shy dogs, chances are high you will have shy puppies. This is why it is very important to deal with reputable breeders who temperament test their breeding pool. It may be very difficult to change the personality of a dog which is wired deep into its genes. Behavior modification may help some, but many cases may be reluctant to improve.

Influence of the Breed

A dog's behavior may also significantly be influenced by the breed. You may have a hyperactive Labrador because this breed was meant to work for most of the day. You may have an aloof Rottweiler because this guarding breed was bred to be wary of strangers. For this reason, it is very important to evaluate a breed very well before considering adopting a dog. Learn about the history of the dog, the typical temperament, and its needs. However, consider that within a breed, each dog may have their individual personalities that may not necessarily abide by the ''breed standard.''

The Role of Nurture

Here is how a dog's environment could influence their behavior.

Experiences in the Litter

The litter plays a big factor in the upbringing of a puppy. A very large litter may mean that the mother dog may have a hard time taking care of all pups; this may influence future behaviors. A puppy learns a lot from its littermates and mother and this is why owners are told to get a puppy only after it has reached eight weeks. A puppy, for instance, who tends to nip a lot may have missed being taught proper bite inhibition, something the owner will have to teach twenty bite marks later.

The Socialization Window

Puppies undergo a critical phase in puppyhood between four weeks and four months. During this critical phase, puppies must learn as much as they can about the world around them. Exposing the puppy to as many people, noises, pets, and places will help the puppy grow into a stable dog that does not react much to new people or sounds. Lack of proper socialization may cause behavior problems such as anxiety or aggression.

Role of Health

Health plays a big role in behavior. A healthy mind is in a healthy body. For this reason, dogs affected by sudden behavioral problems should be seen by a veterinarian. Some forms of aggression may be linked to health problems such as low thyroid levels. Dogs who have pain may also become grumpy and prone to behavioral changes. Dogs on certain medication may also undergo behavior changes.

Environmental Effects

Here the owner may come into play. Litters of puppies raised in dark garages with no sensorial stimulation may be affected for life. Dogs abused or, on the contrary, spoiled may also undergo behavioral changes. If a dog has bad experiences, it may become fearful and defensive, whereas if it has many good experiences, its confidence will grow. The environment may play a big role in a dog's behavior, and it may help dogs born with bad genes or it may turn bad dogs into good dogs blessed with good genes.

Final Thoughts

As seen, a multitude of factors come into play in the shaping of a dog's behavior. Well-raised puppies coming from reputable breeders are usually like balls of play dough. You can shape their behavior and turn them into extraordinary beings or you can ruin them for life if you abuse or neglect them.

While the debate of nature versus nurture remains open, it must be recognized that owners often remain the primary factors when it comes to a dog's behavior. This is why breed-specific legislation should be stopped: blame the owner, not the breed. Puppies are in most cases born good; it is how they are raised and cared for that may ultimately make a difference.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


fundamentallife on September 18, 2010:

Great explanation my friend, I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

Voted up and awesome!


bayoulady from Northern Louisiana,USA on September 16, 2010:

Super article.My Sweetie Pie was a shelter dog. They say she had been on the streets and scavenging around in the town in people's backyards for weeks. I know she was treated well by the confident way she acts when I interact with her,

KatMalone on September 15, 2010:

Enjoyed you hub, very informative. I love dogs.

ocbill from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice on September 15, 2010:

Yeah, I always believe the hereditary traits always come back into play especially with animals that are supposed to live in the wild being a home pet. I heard hats (from you? or someone else on hubpages) may make a dog think you are a stranger