There is certain qualities when selecting a dog, whether it be for a companion, working dog or sports dog that are non-negotiable in the list of priorities…. health and temperament have got to be the top of the chart.
The issue of health can be controversial and luck plays a huge part in the lottery that comes with selecting a dog. Even with the best intentions, you can still be dealt a bad hand. This is a discussion for a later time. However the topic of temperament is something we can certainly be more aware of, and placing more emphasis on its importance can definitely have a far wider reaching affect.
The importance of a Sound temperament cannot be over estimated. Simple.
A sound temperament doesn’t necessarily mean the dog has to be overly social. It can be aloof or indifferent to people, but still have a sound disposition. And a sound temperament doesn’t mean the dog doesn’t have drive nor an ‘edge’. All great dogs have an ‘edge’ to their personality, not unlike supreme athletes or high achievers, it what makes them so great, but being a ‘nice’ goes a long way.
It means that the core make up of the dog is solid and even.
It can literally change your life to have a dog that doesn’t have a sound nature. It can affect your life choices, it can affect relationships, it can change your home dynamics…. it can alter where you socialise, what you do, where you walk etc.
Temperament can be improved and worked on, with effective training and socialisation. However the power of genetics cannot be over looked.
Often, the concept of a sound Temperament can be over looked in preference to other ‘attributes’, such as aesthetic characteristics or physical attributes. It is quite common to see criteria for matching perspective mates, pardon temperamental flaws in favour of attributes that will lead to ‘success’ in a chosen sport of competition field. However, often this is a false illusion.
A dog with a clear head and sound mental state, makes life so much easier. Having to train your dog to be comfortable in various environments, accept other dogs, people, things, animals can be time consuming and extensive. Although socialisation is a key part of any responsible dog owner, it can be a long term project even for a well adjusted dog. Having to do additional work to create a dog that can just cope with life, requires commitment, compassion, patience and time. Having a the core dog have a stable and sound temperament allows you to focus on the specific task or training that you wish to pursue. Temperament is so crucial.
The advances of dog training, has improved our ability to understand and deal effectively with issues that our dogs have. Better understanding has also meant that a lot of dogs that previously wouldn’t have been able to cope with the rigours of daily life, and specifically competition, have successfully over come these challenges. However this is largely down to great dog training. It shouldn’t be misconstrued that this is the core dog.
It has been argued that better dog training could eventually lead to ‘weaker’ dogs. Dogs that are robust and resilient, even when they have poor information and faced with adversity or punishment, tend to have temperaments that can accommodate for this. If these dogs are resilient to poor methods of training, the likelihood is that they will be capable of withstanding the rigours of daily life, with little additional training.
Think about it. Training that didn’t acknowledge the ‘dog’ meant that the core dog had to resilient, even tempered, biddable, and good natured. These dogs in turn would be the more successful and therefore more likely to be bred from. The dogs were good despite us, not because of us.
As, more knowledge and understanding of effective training becomes the norm, it is achievable to overcome ‘issues’ with dogs, so therefore these dogs are likely to be successful and therefore bred on from. However the core make up of the dog, still has ‘issues’. As each subsequent generation follows, these issues may be doubles or combined.
So how do we continue to progress in our understanding of training and behaviour, whilst still breeding and creating dogs that are mentally sound?
Easy. Keep temperament as a priority.
Having a dog that can run a hundred miles per hour, or moves flamboyantly for obedience, or has an insatiable desire to work is fantastic but overlooking temperamental issues, can ultimately hinder these attributes being of any worth.
A dog that has the physical ability to run and jump with more speed then any other, is fruitless if the dog is likely to fear or have aggression issues towards people or other dogs. Imagine going to a competition where there are hundreds of dogs all in relatively close proximity, and your dog is so struck by fear it can’t leave your side… or so aggressive, it can’t be trusted off leash? Yes, both these can be ‘fixed’ with effective dog training, but this is A LOT of work before even contemplating any of the basics, let alone the ‘sexy’ stuff.
A dog with a fearful nature or nervous deposition can be affected by environments. Just think of all the challenges a dog will face at a dog show, or even going to a pub for a drink, or down the local shops.
For years the Guide Dogs for the Blind, have successfully bred generation after generation of dogs, where health and temperament were an absolute priority due to the task that they were due to undertake. They consistently breed dogs that can do the task that they were destined for, are healthy and also have a sound temperament. Of course they produce the occasional dog were genetics don’t match or mix, however the high rate of consistency of creating a dog that is able to undergo the rigours of being a fully operational guide dog, cannot be over looked. They have kept health and temperament as the basis of their breeding programme.
The majority of us, have dogs as our companions and pets first and foremost. So having a sound temperament is going to serve you far greater then the trade off, of having a great working/sports dog that doesn’t. The small window of time spent in the competition arena, cannot outweigh the day to day interaction with that same dog.
And when the prospect of a successful competitive career could be hinder or not even started due to an injury or stroke of bad luck, having a dog that you can enjoy and live with should always be at the forefront of you mind when looking for, breeding from or buying a dog.
It is the age old argument of ‘nature’ vs nurture’. And mother nature knows best.