“It’s all in how they’re raised.”

“All puppies are blank slates.” “If you do everything right with your puppy, you’ll have a great adult dog.” “If dogs have behavioral issues, we should blame the handle end of the leash.”

These are common misconceptions I hear as a trainer, and they make me so very sad. Behavior is a combination of nature and nurture, and if we could just take a moment to look logically at these myths, we would see just how silly they are.

Photo by Tavallai

Photo by Tavallai

Genetics influence behavior. This is part of the reason we have breeds: if you want a dog to work your sheep, you’re going to choose a Border Collie, not a Brittany Spaniel. Even though the two dogs have the same basic size and shape, one is more likely to have the instinctive motor patterns to do the work than the other. Getting a Border Collie whose parents successfully work sheep further increases the likelihood of your dog having the necessary genetic ability to be a great sheepherder.

In the 1970’s, Murphree and colleagues began to study the difference between normal and fearful lines of Pointers. In cross-fostering experiments, puppies from fearful parents were raised by normal mothers. These puppies still turned out fearful, in spite of proper socialization and a confident role model.

Interestingly, puppies from normal parents who were raised by fearful mothers also turned out fearful. Environment also influences behavior, and the best genetics in the world can’t create the perfect dog without a supportive upbringing.

If we believe that the way a dog is raised is solely responsible for his adult behavior, how can the tremendous success of the Pit Bulls from Michael Vick’s kennel and many other fighting operations be explained? With their neglectful and abusive upbringing, we would expect these dogs to be vicious and unsalvageable. Yet many of them have gone on to become wonderful pets. Some compete in agility or work as certified therapy dogs. Many Pit Bull enthusiasts are adamant that it’s all in how the dogs are raised, yet the success of many former fighting dogs tells us that it’s more than just that. These amazing, resilient dogs also have to have a sound genetic basis to explain their ability to overcome adversity.

On the other end of the spectrum, many of my clients have done everything right, yet continue to struggle with anxiety or aggression issues in their dogs. Certain lines of Golden Retrievers are known for severe resource guarding issues that often show up even in tiny puppies. Most of my German Shepherd behavioral consults occur when these dogs hit 12-18 months and growl at or bite a stranger. Miniature Australian Shepherds are likely to come to me due to extreme fear issues at 6-10 months of age. Terrier owners often call me when their dog hits social maturity and begins fighting with housemate dogs. While these traits may be common in my area, trainers in other areas of the country report completely different issues in the same breeds due to different lines of dogs with different genetic potentials living and being bred near them. I also see hundreds of friendly, stable, solid Goldens, German Shepherds, mini Aussies, and terriers in our Beginning Obedience and Puppy Kindergarten classes.

The truth is that dogs are born with a certain genetic potential that will influence which behavioral traits they display. This could include a dog’s sociability towards people, dogs, or other animals; their level of boldness or fearfulness; their likelihood to display anxious or compulsive behaviors; whether they are calm and confident or nervous and neurotic; and many other behavioral factors.

Let’s look at one trait to make this more clear. We know that dogs born from fearful parents are more likely to be fearful and that dogs with bold parents are more likely to be bold. There is a behavioral continuum, with boldness on one end and fearfulness on the other. Here’s what that spectrum would look like. A dog on the left end of the spectrum would be incredibly fearful, while a dog on the right end would be exceedingly confident. Most dogs wind up somewhere in the middle, and dogs on both ends of the spectrum present challenges for their owners.


A dog with bold parents is born with the potential to be quite bold. He is physically capable of bold behavior. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he will become a bold dog. If his experiences as a puppy and young adult are very limited or if he has negative, scary experiences, he may develop into a fearful adult due to environmental influence. His genetic potential gave him the ability to be bold, but his environment did not nurture that ability.


On the other hand, consider a dog who is born from fearful parents. This dog does not have the genetic potential to be bold. Even given an incredibly supportive and nurturing environment as a puppy and young adult, this dog will always be somewhat fearful because the physical ability to be bold is just not there.


These dogs may present identically when we look at their behavior, in spite of the very different levels of dedication their owners had to socializing and supporting their puppies. However, the genetically bold dog may make a lot of progress with appropriate behavioral interventions, while the genetically fearful dog makes little or none. This has nothing to do with the skill level of each dog’s owner, but rather with the raw material each dog started with. (This is also, by the way, why ethical trainers do not make guarantees: without knowing what genetic package a dog starts with, there’s no way to know how much progress that dog can make until we try.)

Do you see how very unfair statements about how “it’s all in how they’re raised” are to committed, wonderful dog owners who have dogs with more difficult baselines? Just because your dog flew through a behavior mod program doesn’t mean every dog can or will, and assuming that it’s all because of the owner is unrealistic and downright cruel. I regularly work with wonderful people who do the best they can with difficult dogs, and that adage about walking a mile in someone’s shoes is applicable to their situation. As if living with and training a more difficult dog weren’t enough, these people are often subjected to comments and insinuations that if they were just a better handler, a better trainer, or a better leader, their dog would be perfectly fine. This is untrue and incredibly hurtful, and it needs to stop.

Do you know anything about your dog’s parents? What environmental and genetic factors do you think contributed to your dog’s behavior? Please share your stories in the comment section below!

196 responses to ““It’s all in how they’re raised.”

  1. Pingback: Random snaps and aggression at 7 months - Doberman Forum : Doberman Breed Dog Forums

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  3. I had a fearful, agressive Belgian Sheepdog that I worked and worked on. He eventually came out of it and turned into a good dog. Father’s line was stable but I didn’t realize until I was talking to a breeder many years later that his mother’s sire mirrored my dog’s behavior. I always make sure I talk to long-term breeders and try to find out about dogs at least a couple of generations back.

    I have worked with extremely abused dogs and have seen dogs come out of that situation with joy and incredibly stable temperaments once they trusted their owners. I have also seen dogs who went to the best homes but were a headache for the owner as they had so many insecurities. I used to think it was mostly a matter of upbringing, but now think genetics plays a larger part.

    • I am fostering a dog that came to the US from Afghanistan. She was a rescue and is a mix. She is 15 months and now shows fearful aggression. I took her to a trainer to be evaluated and was told about the fearful aggression and told maybe the best thing would be to put her down. she also told me she would not be willing to work with her. In our home she is a great dog gets along great with my Afghan Kuchi. What methods did you use to help your dog with this behavior.

  4. I rescued a Border Collie who was so abused and fearful, he would fall on the ground and PEE himself. After years of work, he became the BEST family dog, but he still had a funny habit of OCD as a remnant of his recovery. He would give you his paw, and then the strain would begin, if you placed a hand OVER his paw! When he could resist no longer, he pulled out his paw and put it back on your hand! LOL ! He could do that for hours!

  5. My border collie abruptly developed a fear of unfamiliar flooring (especially if it was smooth, although it could be the exact flooring that I have in my house, just in a different building) when she was maybe 3 or 4. She’d always been concerned about changes to her environment, but this stunned me, because it also included floors in houses in which we had previously spent many days during her life or even weekends visiting. This manifested with the toes splayed out, the legs splayed out, hunkering down for a low center of gravity, and preferably hugging the walls and furniture as if somehow that made the floors safer. Fast forward to when she’s 8 years old–still does it, although not quite as much and she can get used to the floors given time and patience. Talking to her breeder one day about border collies in general and reactivity, and I mentioned the floors thing. He said, oh, yes, her father did that his whole life, on *all* smooth floors, even in his own house–hugging the walls, toes spread out. Funny thing is that in looks and attitude, she’s so much like her mother (whom floors never bothered).

    Thanks for this article; just read in in the USDAA news. I particularly liked it because it followed a discussion with a friend about human children. I commented that she’d done a great job raising her kids, and she said that, no, she was just lucky. I said that I believed it’s a combination of nature and nurture, and she said it’s almost all nature, because she’s seen good kids in bad situations and vice versa. Your article captures the answer to our discussion quite nicely. Thanks.

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  7. I have a 2-year-old Rottweiler from an excellent breeder. I met both his sire and dam. Both parents were friendly and outgoing and the dam was a good mother. My boy stayed with his mom and littermates until he was 9 weeks old. He had a wonderful start to life. Only weeks after getting him I took him for his first vet visit. Unfortunately, I did not even consider that they might do something to frighten him. After all, I had already spent much time and energy socializing him and getting him used to all types of handling. I had never had a dog with handling issues before. When they took him in the back, they gave him a fecal exam and he freaked out. Ever since then it has been a struggle to undo the damage those vet techs did. (Needless to say, we go to a different vet now.) My outgoing, social boy is now fearful of being restrained. He will stiffen his body and growl if held for too long. God forbid anyone try to take his temp anally. Thankfully, due to patient counterconditioning and desensitization (and some wonderful genetics) he has improved greatly. I am lucky that I got my dog from a responsible, ethical breeder who looks closely not only at conformation but also temperament. It could have been so much worse for my boy if I hadn’t.

  8. Reblogged this on Barking Up the Right Tree and commented:
    as recently stated at the SPARCS 2014 conference, behavior is 100% genetics and 100% environment – you cannot unpick the two

  9. Pingback: Is Dog Behavior Nature, Nuture, or Just Bad Pet Parenting? | Keep the Tail Wagging | Raising Dogs Naturally

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  13. Not sure WHY vets and some behaviourists — and the writer of this article in particular — have a problem with the oft-quoted/said line, “it’s all in how they’re raised” yet still be able to find truth in the nuture aspect of parenting (let’s face it: when you adopt a puppy, you _are_, in many ways, taking the place of the puppies parent, mom or dad — both, perhaps). As someone who not only SAYS that “dogs aren’t born bad”, or “the breed doesn’t determine absolute behavior”, or “it’s all in how they are raised”, I fully believe in the power of nuture OVER nature. ESPECIALLY if you have the chance to live/work/be with the puppy from an early age (at least 4-to 6 months) and on. I’ve experience it myself, without professional training. I was a so-so dog owner with my last two — mixed labrador (foundling at 3 years) and a doberman mix (adopted from the pound at about one to two months). I did about half of the things right when caring for those two dogs — I wish I had done better, but like most people, I was focused on my child, and the dogs were, well, just dogs. When our latest family pet — a staff-boxer mix — found us, I still wasn’t the greatest pet owner. But I spent more time with him (walking, walking, walking) and played with him like a mom dog with it’s pup (taught him to play gently — so, now when he plays, he doesn’t ever bite. Ever. He pinches other dogs, at most. That has resulted in a dog that WON’T engage when other dogs get aggressive. Plus, he is by and large the HAPPIEST dog — even at nine, he doesn’t get grumpy and snappish when tired or annoyed by younger dogs, as, understandably, do a LOT of dogs, even though he has a touch of arthritis. I’m NOT saying my way of raising dogs — teaching them to be nice, careful, not dominate; plus, spoiling them, and letting them live INDOORS (so as not to feel ostracised from “the pack”) — is the end all and be all, but it certainly has resulted in happier, friendlier dogs the last few times around.

    And it came about because NURTURE — if done right — will always trumph over nature. And, as rescue dogs have proven, nurture can even overcome bad past experiences (to one degree or another).

    Which proves, in my estimation, that it IS all in “how they are raised” — or, more simply, how they are treated.

    Treat a dog with love and understanding (of their nature) and not as a machine or a tool (to be used solely for work), and you’ll have a dog that more often than not, WON’T have “issues”.

    But if beat a dog, are always aggressive or angry toward it — or even if you treat a dog like a tool, or trained chimp that must jump through hoops (or never move, always heel, always sit and roll over) to please you or to meet a standard of behavior that _humans_ deem to be the only correct way to behave, and…you’ll have a dog with “issues” — one sort or another.

    • Dorman, you most likely found a dog that was stable genetically to begin with or are you saying that you had information that his sire, dam and ancestors had unstable elements that you were able to overcome? However, I don’t think you get the gist of the article.

    • In Memory of Bruno

      Did you not read the article? I think the issue with the statement “it’s all in how they’re raised” is the word “all”. You even flip flop in your comment moving from “NURTURE – if done right – will always triumph over nature” to “Treat a dog with love and understanding (of their nature) and not as a machine or a tool (to be used solely for work), and you’ll have a dog that more often than not, WON’T have “issues”.” My understanding of the English language is that “more often than not” doesn’t mean the same thing as “always”. People who give loving homes to dogs with genetic predispositions to behaviour problems such as anxiety or aggression are not always able to overcome nature with nurture, even with the help of a good behaviourst, and would be the “not” case in your “more often that not” statement. Those people find the “all” in “it’s all in how they’re raised” to be particularly hurtful, and I think the point of this article is to attempt to educate people like yourself who have been fortunate enough to have had no first hand experience with an aggressive/anxious dog who, even with the most loving owner, could not overcome their genetics. I would urge you to open your mind to the possibility that you have been quite fortunate to have met the dogs you have met and give the article a second read while considering that not everybody has been as lucky as you have.

    • You ARENT a SMART man, are you Dorman?

    • I agree with the previous comments saying that you missed the point of this article. In addition, in your “way of raising dogs” that is outlined above, in my opinion, is just the bare minimum that any responsible pet owner should do. You say it is not the “end all and be all” as though you are going above and beyond, but you listed allowing a dog to live indoors as though you are meeting some higher criteria. In my opinion, allowing a dog to live indoors goes without saying.

  14. I have a year old APBT. She is my 4th. We got her at 4 mos. know nothing of her background prior to that. Within the first week, we realized she had pretty severe dog reactivity (at the time we believed it was aggression). We have worked with two different behavior rehab trainers and I have done 2-3 classes per week with her since we got her. She has come a long, long way. She can still have s bit of reactivity, but she is doing awesome. We are currently taking our second of 6 classes tonight for Her CGC and is already signed up to start Her CGCA (community) next month. It is very true nature and nurture play a part but, so does how you manage your dog. People think I’m crazy to be doing so many classes, but she NEEDS the constant exposure to Bew and different situations. This dog has made me become a much better dog handler.
    She is impulsive, has a huge prey drive. Is silly, wonderful, goofy and loveable. She likes nothing better than to snuggle and be hugged and loved.
    She loves every person, especially children. She comes to work with me daily. I’m a hairdresser and everybody loves to say hi to her. It’s a lot of work but well worth it.
    Believe me, I’ve been on the embarrassed end of the leash when my dog used to sound like Cujo when she’s see another dog. These days, she play bows at them all.
    Thank goodness for the Internet and the ability to use it to find trainers that can help

  15. I totally agree, as I am one of those dog owners that has worked hard raising my female pitbull who has fear & aggression issues. She is just a year old and I have had her in obedience & behavior modification classes and training since she was 3 mo old. It breaks my heart to see her lash out at another person or dog. I’m not sure we will ever get her past these behaviors, but I’m willing to continue working with her to the best of my abilities. Now I know all too well that it is not “how the dogs are raised” as to there behaviors and there unpredictabilities!

    • I have an 8 month old female pitbull. I know her mother is fearful of loud noises, storms etc. I have begun light pet therapy training with my girl from 16 weeks (I visit a local nursing home for 1 1/2 hrs once a month). My other American male staffy is a certified pet therapy dog. My girl Peace has a very timid, easily startled side. When she first encountered the elevators she freaked – but I’ve noticed that as her trust in me has grown, so has her confidence with the different situations she encounters. I’ve noticed her look at me for my reaction/support. Sometimes all I need to do is give her a touch on the cheek etc and she calms. I’ve also proudly noticed when I go to walk around an object ie a post, she waits to see which side of the object I go to and adjusts her track to follow thereby not tangling the lead. I must say that now getting in and out of elevators is a fun game so while it is obvious she has that nervous highly strung genetic side, she is very influenced by nurture and I see a great future for my beautiful girl 💚

  16. Hi, I bred, trained German Shepherds for a few decades in the past. 5 years ago I purchased a GSD from a reputable breeder at 8 weeks young. This boy is very loving but he gets so excited when we take him anywhere – he howls like a Banshee and wines to drive the most sane person up the wall. I have taken him to behaviour classes, obedience, play school. Once he is there he is okay but getting there is crazy. I know he can’t help himself as he always comes to me to be held to calm him. The vet suggested a calming collar. The first one helped a bit (they only last 4 weeks) – but habit is still not overcome. The next one I put on him made him even crazier. When a dog walks by he jumps out of his skin almost. Our next door neighbour has a small dog and plays with her just fine. No barking or howling.
    I am on the end of my rope with this boy. I can teach him anything he soaks it up like a sponge. We have fun training session almost every day. BUT I can’t teach him to be calm. His howling is so embarrassing- people think I hit him or stepped on his toes or something. Any idea?? I know how to handle and train dogs of this breed. Can’t do anything for him. Love him a lot but he is not stable.

    • Trudy E, have you read Leslie McDevitt’s “Control Unleashed” ? A lot of what she writes about deals with teaching dogs to be calm by reinforcing calm behaviors. For instance she might teach them to go to a mat, then start teaching them to be calm on the mat, then move the mat around. If you haven’t read her book it might be worth a try. I once had a Springer who barked continuously when driving anywhere, so I have an idea of what you’re going through! Unfortunately she hadn’t written the book when I had him, or I might be able to tell you how well it works!

      • Hi Pat S. Thanks for your suggestion I will surely try and see if I can get this book. At this point I’ll try anything. He is great in the house. Also in the yard UNLESS a dog walks by. Then he goes bonkers!!
        I will get the book and hope for the best. Thanks again.

      • Hello again.
        OMG I think I’m on to something. Yesterday one of my boys nemeses, German Shepherd walked by and he had his usual fit and threw himself at the backyard gate and it popped open and he was out and across the street. The two dogs, both male postured with a lot of snarling and yapping. No bites where exchanged. We got my boy under control. No human lost control. All handled as a matter of fact.

        This morning the same dog and handler team walked by with my boy in the house. As quick as I could I put my boy into his harness and we sat on the front steps to wait for the dog’s return.

        With shackles raised Marlowe noticed the dog approaching. I immediately whispered to him calming words and as soon as the hair went down I fed him his most fav treats. Followed by a body massage. The other handler noticing what I was doing slowed down to give me plenty of time for my calming treatment. So far so good.

        Later in the day another dog walked by and he started to run to the fence when I called him back for a treat and a massage. It worked! Yahoo!!

        All during the rest of the day, armed with a lot of treats we had no outbursts. Later on in the evening my boy would start running to the fence and stopped to look at me wondering what he should do. Treats and massage won EVERY TIME. I sure hope this is the road to a calm relationship between my boy and us.
        Thanks for listening to me.

    • Same. I have a working line shepherd. He is totally over the top excitement wise. Animals, people, you name it. He is able to settle down with people but I have to start at long range and work in closer. He is dangerous to small animals. He is reactive to cars, spooky about things being moved. Furniture, clothes baskets, wheel barrows you name it. He slinks up to items that do not belong there. He is never calm and relaxed. He has little awareness of his strength. I often call him my little bull.

      My personal thoughts are that he was bred too close to the prey drive edge. He is way over the top with his prey drive. His brain does not respond to anything (reactive) and he goes over threshold a dozen times a day. Difficult dog. Can’t do much with him. He learns new words and commands in less than a minute. Very smart but unable to focus or stay calm. Love him but a great disappointment. So many hours of training and desensitization with few results. Luckily he is not aggressive and has a good heart.

  17. Reblogged this on DogSentials and commented:

  18. I have a breed of dog called azawakh. They are a primitive sighthound breed known for their avoidance behavior. They can range from the extreme, down right aggressive and won’t allow anyone to touch or approach them, to being somewhat friendly and open. Mine are somewhere in the middle. No amount of socialization is going to change the breeds disposition to be like a golden retriever. They were, and still are used in the country of origin (Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger) as village guardians, and live around people but are not treated as pets, more like tools. Genetics plays a huge role in behavior.

  19. The bottom line is, whether nature or nurture, people are to blame at both ends of it. Dogs are inbred by who? People. Never blame the dogs.

    • Jude Wayne Phillips

      Absolutely Sue , fabulously thought of and right on the dotted line which most people can’t seem to comprehend ” Why is my pet behaving the way it does” Thank you 😊 and lets hope more people get a bit educated or rather open to your logical reasoning.. Take care

    • In the wild many types of animals are naturally quite inbred due to isolation of location. Science often realizes what they thought to be entirely different animals are but a different branch of family of a known animal, but different due to influence of a limited breeding gene pool.
      Inbreeding as a breeding method is no more inherently damaging than doing total outcross breedings. The good vs. bad results are more a function of the breeder’s knowledge, skill and committment.

      • You know there was a reason that royalty finally stopped in breeding to keep their bloodlines pure. They were producing too many morans,deformaties,& insanity.

  20. Thank you so much for this article. I have owned and fostered many dogs, many of them German Shepherds. I fostered two dogs from the same litter from the time they were 7 weeks old. They were born in rescue. Their mom was purebred GSD. Their father was unknown. Upon intake to a shelter the mom was given all of her shots, very early in pregnancy. They did not realize she was pregnant. She had 9 puppies, all of which appeared healthy at first. The morning after I took the puppies home, Ramer (female) had a Grand Mal seizure (which I recognized since I am an RN and have a daughter who had seizures). She also walked very wobbly and sometimes fell over. Choco (male) did not exhibit any of these neurological symptoms. Choco was adopted at 4 months. Five out of nine puppies from this litter had similar symptoms. One puppy died at about 12 weeks. We fell in love with Ramer and formally adopted her at 6 months. Her symptoms seemed to disappear except for a severe reaction to Trifexis. We did all the “right” things. Took her to several levels of obedience classes, socialized the heck out of her, loved her, got her used to food being taken from her, etc. At approximately one year of age, she started having severe aggression issues with people and dogs who she wasn’t very familiar with that entered our home. With us and people she knows well, she is an absolute love bug, one of the most affectionate dogs we have ever had. I can still pick up her food in mid meal and she just looks at me like “Mom?” She is 4 years old now. In our home, she is possessive or protective of the house, yard, her crate, Nylabones, food, etc. with unknown people or dogs. But I can take her to the Vet, doggie play day, pet store, etc. and she loves everyone. She has to be put in her crate behind a locked door when most people come over. I am convinced that those vaccinations given very early in her mother’s pregnancy affected her brain. Another rescue friend fostered and kept Ramer’s sibling and has the same issues. Do you know of anything I can do to help her get over this?

    • You did say that her mom was GSD? It sounds to me like your dog is doing her job,she’s protecting her home & her people. If she only does that on her turf she’s not vicious just protective. It is what it is, if you have to crate her when people come over so be it. I wonder have you tried to introduce her to visiters after that have sat down .& been there for a little while.

      • Lots of dogs don’t like strange dogs in their space.

      • It’s not just protectiveness. She killed a small dog that entered our yard through the slats in our fence (that our dogs can’t get out of). We have installed additional fencing to prevent this from happening again. She injured a foster dog (needed stitches) after being introduced properly and slowly. They had been getting along great then she attacked when my husband petted the foster. I am so afraid of what could happen that she is locked up when my children and grandchildren come over, even though she has met them many times. They are scared to death of her. Yes, I have frequently tried having visitor sit on couch and bring her back in on a leash. As long as they don’t move she is OK. They can be here for hours and she’ll let them pet her. But if they move or get up she tries to lunge at them. The leash prevents an attack.

      • I didn’t understand all that from your first post I wish I could tell you something encouraging, it’s a hard decision that you may have to make to protect your grandchildren, It may be something neurological that can’t be fixed. I am so sorry that this dog you obviously love may be damaged in some way & you may have to choose safety over everything else .

  21. I have an 8 month old female pitbull. I know her mother is fearful of loud noises, storms etc. I have begun light pet therapy training with my girl from 16 weeks (I visit a local nursing home for 1 1/2 hrs once a month). My other American male staffy is a certified pet therapy dog. My girl Peace has a very timid, easily startled side. When she first encountered the elevators she freaked – but I’ve noticed that as her trust in me has grown, so has her confidence with the different situations she encounters. I’ve noticed her look at me for my reaction/support. Sometimes all I need to do is give her a touch on the cheek etc and she calms. I’ve also proudly noticed when I go to walk around an object ie a post, she waits to see which side of the object I go to and adjusts her track to follow thereby not tangling the lead. I must say that now getting in and out of elevators is a fun game so while it is obvious she has that nervous highly strung genetic side, she is very influenced by nurture and I see a great future for my beautiful girl 💚

  22. I’ve dealt with both ends of the spectrum. Sometimes due to breed inherent traits in the beginning it’s hard to deduce exactly what you’re dealing with and you can end up with tough management cases where the dog won’t progress any further even with expert handling. Luckily I’m now living with a very balanced Sheltie! He’s so level it’s almost like he’s not a Sheltie. LOL But I can assure you if I were to get another it would be from the same lines because he is low fear and quite confident yet non problematic. He has turned out to be a fabulous Service Dog and goes to the cinema, malls, schools, meditation class, hospitals, a funeral and even a carnival with his favourite child zipping in and out of a bouncy castle.

  23. I have a dog named Harvey I got from the pound. He had been very abused. I thought it was all from the abuse, but he is a very scared dog and when I first got him, could barely touch him without him hunkering down like he was about to get beat. I’ve had him for 6 years now and have tried everything I could think of to help him gain confidence.Having fostered abused dogs before, I had quite a few ideas on how it worked. But while I have made minor success with him, he is still afraid of a lot of things. I know nothing of his breeding other than he may have some terrier in him and he loves to run in open spaces. Perhaps his parents were also fearful. Thank you for this article. While he may never be brave, he has still stolen my heart.

  24. Thank you for writing about this…finally, this is the first article that is based on fact and common sense! I’m so relieved to see this. I can’t read peoples replies & posts anymore…it frightens me to know that people like that own and or breed dogs. Thank you a million times over!! Fellow trainer.

  25. I have a Doberman, my 4th but my first from working dog lines, which I have discovered was a big mistake. He is super mouthy, overly reactive, and any movement faster than a walk by my other dogs he starts grabbing at them. There is absolutely a huge difference because the “bite” of working dogs is sought after and bred for. I thought that if I didn’t train for Schutzhund or IPO work, he would be just like my previous dogs. Very wrong. His bite, or grip, is his first reaction to almost anything, no matter that I continue to discourage it.

    • Why on earth did you get a working line dog for a pet? Find that dog a new home with a handler that will take care of him and work him like a real working Dobermann. Idiot….

  26. What an idiotic comment…….You are clueless about dogs….. Definitely clueless about breeding/genetics.

  27. Bottom line is, We have what we have and have to learn how to live with our pets. One female Pomeranian. Always wanted a mini one. Big bucks CH on pedigrees on both grand parents. TDX on both parents. She will charge anyone. Spent many years working on it. Same thing at age 11. If someone visits I have to remove her or crate her before opening the door. few people she will be okay with because she knows them and trust them not to touch her. If she misses some one , She will try to follow through the second time. I need to be careful with her. She has bad rear knees. Yet there is always that someone who try’s to touch her because she’s so cute. She is who and what she is. I can’t count how many hands I had to stop in mid air and say NO! I just told you. The answer I always get is. ( That’s okay we have a dog )
    leaving me again to say NO ! She will bite. It’s marked all over her pet stroller. Keep Hands Away, Do Not Touch, I get so mad because she has to be able to go out side also. I love my dog . She is my main squeeze. People need to listen. It is what it is. I learned how to live with her.

  28. Jocelyne Maheux

    Popeye is 7yo male rescue std poodle mix. He was found stray at 4 months old. He is dominant, overexcited, anxious, disrespectful and does not get along with most other big dominant dogs like himself. He does not seem to know how to behave properly around other dogs. When I adopted him, I already have Zack, a golden retriever who is easy going calm submissive dog. I have a bit of experience in training (agility, frisbee, tricks) and I used positive reinforcement and play but I lack knowledge in dog behavior and body language. I took Popeye to dog parks a few times when he was young, unfortunately not ofter because we live in the country, far from a city center, and all was fine. As he grew, while walking if we met another canine, he reacts strongly but barking and acts as he wants to kill the other dog. Of course this gets me nervous which I know it makes things worse but I really can’t help it. I take him to doggie day care once in awhile, the lady there says he is fine with smaller dogs but not with most big ones. I’ve seen him there in a confined space with about 10-12 other big dogs and they all survive. I’ve learn to live with it but now I am currently looking to adopt another dog, looking for a submissive female and I do hope it will work out.

  29. Does a computer engineer play a important role in designing an aircraft ?

  30. I own an alapaha blue blood bulldog that I can’t take out in public without being muzzled and kept away from people and animals. His parents are both temperamental around people and from what I’ve been told they are very aggressive. When I bought my dog I had known the parents since they were eight weeks and never saw aggression but tons of people refused to buy pups from the litter due to aggression, and since then I’ve seen it myself but where I watched them grow up they were never aggressive towards me. I treat my dog the best I can. Vet care, basic training, no abuse. But he is violent and aggressive. Trainers keep telling me. To manage him (muzzle, never offleash, never around strangers), drug him (prozac) or just put him down. I’ve been managing him because at home hes wonderful and loving to me and ym bf, our roommate and other dog. But I can’t go out with him and it kills me

  31. Great research, insightful and well written. In addition to valuable information – thirsty for more!!! I felt a great sense of understanding and relief “not always the handler/owner/client doing something wrong”..if I get the essence..

  32. I so agree I used to breed Boxers.The last of my bloodlines died 17 years ago. All of my puppies were confident & very friendly, however they would be very protective if a situation called for it.I did keep a white puppy from my last breeding I had the mom and dad and they were very nice dogs good temperament, but the puppy I kept was overprotective he only loved me & really did not want anyone close to me. I was able to handle him & I loved him dearly, but I don’t want another one like that because it is a big responsibility .It was fortunate for Bocephus that I have worked with animals over forty years.Someone with less experience would probably have had to put him down. I had him 16 years & he never hurt anyone but I had to be very vigilant. He never ever refused to do anything I asked of him & he never showed any aggression towards me I never even had to raise my voice. He just loved only me & he was just too protective.

  33. Years ago, I acquired a 15 month-old toy-breed dog who had little to no socialization. I was her third home, after the previous decided that she wasn’t “good enough” to be a show dog. She was afraid of everything and very reluctant to try new things. Fortunately, she liked food and was friendly with my other dogs. After years of patience, remedial socialization, and encouraging her to try agility, she blossomed, revealing a confident, outgoing personality that was masked this entire time. With lots of positive-reinforcement training, She became a Ch. MACH with a CD, and a therapy dog. With patient and gentle training, she overcame her deprived puppyhood, and showed what her genetics were capable of!

  34. Great article! I have a fearful dog whose mother was EXTREMELY fearful. She was a stray living on the streets. After over a year in rescue she still hasn’t been adopted due to her extreme fear issues, she cannot even go outside due to extreme fear and needs a home that will let her use potty pads indoors and overall be exceedingly patient with her. All of the puppies have turned out to have some degree of fearfulness as well. I believed “it’s all how you raise them” before I got my puppy. Now I know better. I think it’s something that people have to really experience first hand sometimes before they can truly get it. I worked with my puppy on his fearfulness from day one and thankfully I had planned to use positive reinforcement training before even getting him. So I didn’t know at the time that what I was doing was counter conditioning, but whenever something upset or scared him, I would distract him and treat him. He was fear reactive to a lot of other dogs, specifically larger dogs, but with an early start and consistency, we have had success. He’s 15 months old now and he has trialed in Rally, Agiliy, and Barn Hunt, and earned his Canine Good Citizen. But he has a littermate who is terrified to even go for walks at the same time. Of course my dog still has his moments where he is scared by something, or something surprises us and he reacts. When we are out in a busy environment, especially one with lots of dogs, I watch him closely, have treats on hand all the time, and look for uncomfortable body language so I can distract him and redirect him before he reacts. It takes a lot of work and attention to detail but it’s worth it to keep him comfortable. I wanted a dog because I wanted to get into sports and take my dog places. It was a lot of work but we made it happen and he is getting better all the time! Thanks for this article, I think it really can help people understand dogs like mine a little better!

  35. I myself was trained by a very reputable dog trainer. Sometimes, you just have to get back to the basics, and stop trying to make a dog live like a person, but let the dog live in the dog. I have learned every dog has at least one joy that is positive. Working both mind and body has great benefits! And yet again, we have dogs that have certain traits that we can not take out of the dog. We work with them, and love them. Doing the very best we can, they can go to obedience class 20 times over, bring them home and the dog is still the same dog it was before classes. Often no fault of the owner.

  36. I have recently had both an animal behaviourist and a trainer say to me that were my rescue dog human she would be classed as autistic, and this is after nearly four years with me. She is dog aggressive out of the house but can be introduced to calm dogs in the house. She will not tolerate being touched by anyone but me and three other people, and one of those she is rather variable with. She avoids interaction, showing stereotype behaviour such as spinning when people try to get her attention. She does not make eye contact. She is highly reactive, particularly when in public and she does not cope with new situations at all. She isolates herself. She can be very sensitive to certain noises and her play with my other dogs is very odd. There are a multitude of other odd behaviours that she displays and she has got to be one of the best examples to show that “…it’s all how they are raised…..” is totally wrong.

  37. Yeah I caught that too, why does she think she was doing something special because she let her present dog sleep in the house where did her previous dogs stay?

  38. Thank you. Omg, thank you. When I went to pick up my puppy she was hiding in the dog house. Now I know better. Your article acknowledges our struggles. We went to puppy training, visited lots of people when she was growing up, everything has always been scary to her despite positive interactions with people. She’s 12.5 now, early on we closed off most of the house so she couldn’t hide, but she is still a cave dweller, choosing the bathtub or a dark corner of the bedroom. She hates to be outside and prefers her nesting areas in the house.

    • That reminded me. When I was a teen I worked at a German Shepherd kennel. One of my jobs was playing with the pups. I was told to concentrate on the scared shy pups so they would blend in better with the outgoing ones. I quit a month later for other reasons. That kennel was a dark unethical place.

  39. I purchased an English Shepherd puppy when she was about 11 weeks old -she was the last puppy left and they had her in a coal cellar under the house which is one reason why I bought her- she was all alone there in the dark. She is very brave and not scared of thunder and lighting; she does have issues with some noises but otherwise is a very good dog….However, she does have resource guarding issues. I happen to be the resource she guards, from the cat from people and I don’t know why she does this! I want to get another dog for her to have a friend to play with but she is a real jelly when I try to be friendly with other animals. She was raised around other dogs and cats and horses and exposed to all sorts of people and situations so she really has no reason to be this way. She is smart and learns fast so I hope I can turn her around – she will be 2 in January.

  40. Reblogged this on And Then There's That… and commented:
    Excellent piece, and after working in shelters and veterinary hospitals, I completely agree.

  41. What do you think about this situation:
    Pup at breeder’s place, till 8 weeks old, is veery brave, very strong in mind (the strongest and bravest in the litter), loves loves loves people and other dogs.
    Then he goes to the new owner and after few months it becomes fearful, soft, scared of people (but mostly men), doesn’t like other dogs. The only one in the litter like that, rest of the pups still loves people/dogs, are brave, etc, nothing changed since they left breeder.
    So, in case of that pup – genetics?

    • Socialization begins with dam & littermates at the breeder’s home, but shouldn’t end there. Dogs require continued socialization thru puppyhood, as a young adult and beyond. Some need more time and effort put into them than others do. Ideally, socialization continues throughout a dog’s lifetime – think of owning a dog as a lifetime project.
      A dedicated breeder looks at conformation, health and temperament of the parents when planning a litter. And maybe as importantly, should seek to pair a pup\dog with an owner best suited to the pup’s individual characteristics.

  42. I have a 2 1/2 year old Great Dane. I have worked diligently with her to help her overcome fearfulness and separation anxiety. I met both of her parents separately and in different settings. We now have issues with dog aggression. I just recently learned that her Mother and ALL of her litter mates have the same issue. I still find some of her behavior unacceptable and we continue positive reinforcement training. We have moved the “needle” a significant amount. I am hoping that she still has more potential. I had planned to breed this beautiful Show Dog, but don’t feel it is fair to pass this temperament on,

    • I’m so sorry that you got a puppy that is so difficult, but thank God @ least for your dog that you got him who knows what would of happened to him if someone else got him & shame on the breeders for breeding an aggressive dog esp.one that large a breed

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  45. I like this article generally, but need to point out that the Michael Vick pit bulls did NOT all become success stories. For example,after literally years of “rehabilitation” by the best rehabitators in the world, one of the “Victory” pit bulls acted on his genetics and broke out of his enclosure at Best Friends and broke into the enclosure of another pit bull and killed him. Then he severely injured another Vick pit bull. It is likely that the Vick pit bulls that were not extremely dog aggressive did not come from serious dog fighting lines. Many of them suffered from extreme shyness which is not typical of pit bulls and was likely genetic. (Many of the shy dogs appeared related). By the way, a bunch of beagles were also rescued from Vick and all were all quickly and sucessful ly rehomed with little fanfare. None ever killed another dog.

    • You can find bad dogs in any breed, pit bulls just seem to be the breed attacked the most. I am 62 years old grew up with pits & am staffs as well. Nome ever gave us any problems, we did have an American Eskimo dog that was pure evil and before you ask yes I have lots of experience in handling a lot of different breeds of dogs, I managed a 300 run boarding kennels for 17 years, before that I worked as a vet tech & am currently employed as mgr.of a high volume grooming shop have been here 16 years

    • Come on you’re a trainer shame on you for making such a dumb remark beagles are hounds they are bred to live in packs of course they didn’t kill any dogs, A little condescending don’t ya think.

  46. I have an almost 2 year old rescue dog. She’s part shepard and part husky. We got her at 3 months from the animal shelter, se had been found as a stray in a northern reserve. Poor girl.
    Ever since we adopted her we’ve had aggression issues that have manifested, to food especially, and sometimes if we want to pet her. She’s terrified of other dogs and most interactions we have she lays herself down on her back, submitting.
    I know she’s still young and there’s time to train her, but we’ve seen countless trainers, emailed for advice, and hired the only behaviorist in town with absolutely no change.
    It breaks my heart because I always thought I didn’t do aomething right, I messed up somewhere. … but after reading articles like this I don’t fee quite as guilty at myself. Thank you.

  47. Elizabeth Redfern

    We do have to remember that it is only recently that every dog was expected to be the boon companion of a human living in urban settings. For thousands of years we selected dogs to be part of very different lives and we developed unique animals with talents and personalities suited to our purposes. A field bred Lab for instance, can barrel into someone’s life, go to classes, ace a wobble board without a thought, show no fear of anything or any one. On the other hand this dog could be completely unaware of the owner, drag them along the street, take training only with exaggerated praise or sanction and be like a bull in the china shop of an urban life. This is an ideal dog for taking out in a rocking boat, a dog that thrills to the sound of gunshot over its head and it can leap gleefully into dark cold waters to swim out to a duck and bring it, sometimes alive and struggling to a hunter. There is no time for clicker training or gentle pats on the head and this dog is just full of energy and is strong and independent. Such a dog can be and often is, a disaster in many homes.

    On the other hand, a Collie, one of the herding breeds, selected for those same thousands of years to be aware of differences, to be highly reactive to easily stimulated stock, to be “in tune” with the humans around them…very, very work oriented also but sensitive to small changes in the whole world around them and needing the sense of being a part of a team with lots of positive reinforcement would be the opposite of that Lab. Many dogs of this type would also a disaster in a home that wanted a wash and wear pet that just needed to be taken out for a walk and get fed and pretty much acted on its own as a kind of necessary addition to the storybook urban life.

    As a trainer I tell my students that each breed or mix is different. The husky that walks onto the wobble board the first time but will not interact in heeling with consistent attention is acting on its selected character. The Sheltie who takes three weeks to put one paw on the wobble board but is striding along paying no attention to anyone but its adored owner within five minutes of being invited to heel is also acting on what it was made to do. The husky and the sheltie are both doing excellent work, but like people, they have inborn strengths and weaknesses and one must not compare…there is and should not be, a generic “correct” dog. Almost all dogs can be trained but the expectations and methods depend on the dogs’ needs. Unless you want a stuffed toy, or a ceramic statue, when you add a dog to you home you need to decide what kind of character you want in a dog and respect any prospective dog by not expecting a Lab to be a Collie and put a round peg in a square hole. Dogs live a long time and a bad fit can lead to a very, very long time.

    Of course there are dogs that are at each end of the spectrum…those who who not fit in pretty much any home due to their genetic makeup, the sad recipients of a character or gene set that dooms them to being not suitable for most human relationships. They are genetic beings, just as we are, and nature puts out a whole range of possibilities in case the environment favours a change. That is what makes life on earth possible, the ability to change. Even with great care in matching sound dogs, the best environment some puppies may not be able to have a good life as a companion.

    On the other hand, the rescue movement may allow dogs so badly damaged that they may never recover and they too can not be the best pet no matter how much they are loved and worked with. Rescues, mixed or purebred, also have their breed(s) characteristics and if we don’t know what is behind them we really do have to go with the flow. They are like a big surprise package in a lot of cases and sometimes the surprise is not a happy one. I tell people that a rescue or a mix can be like members of your human family…you get what you get and you are obligated (in the case of the dog anyway) to work with whatever that turns out to be because you invited the dog to be with you….not the other way around.

    Like us, dogs are a part of a way of living that even a few decades ago, did not exist…they live in high rises, are expected to interact in dog parks, be dressed in jackets and raincoats, live in contact with humans 24/7-REALLY live check to jowl with people, sleep in their beds, play with human infants, share food, travel in cars, be a full member of a human family…often with no down time outside in a yard of their own even, and their temperament and characters are constantly being tested. Many people also add dogs to their lives with little or no idea of what a dog should be like or what they want it to be except that every home needs a dog. Many of these dogs did not have the best breeding or the best start to be the super dogs they are expected to be. That there are problems is not surprising.

    • I totally agree with this article. It makes me crazy that people expect dogs to put up with anything a child wants to do to him. Parents teach your children kindness.Also do a little research on traits of certain breeds you may think you want just because you like their appearance. Stop expecting a dog to go against it’s true nature you can’t expect more from him than he can give, people call them dumb animals, how can they be dumb when they can understand us but so many of us can’t understand them.

    • Well said!

  48. Great article. I try not to judge any team if it’s not a dog that has lived in my house for months and I KNOW what they’re capable of.
    My current Malinois was left untouched in a police-dog kennel from 8wks-1 year. She was fairly fearful environmentally and socially when I got her at 18mo. She has improved but remains easy to startle and suspicious of her environment. Walks are recon, not recreation. Socially, prey-based bitework helped her confidence a LOT and made her much happier and safer about strangers. Kids are still a big no! Several people who knew her before have remarked on how her good genetics (and I hope my diligent training!!) have brought her a long ways from the terrified, crawl-on-her belly kennel dog.
    You might attribute her remaining edginess to her history. “She’s a rescue!” But I recently found out two of her house-raised sibling were put down before a year old for shredding their owners in what sounds like startle-related, “survival mode” attacks. Both parents titled KNVP imports, solid working K9 father who has many great offspring in LE and sport. This was just a bad combination for some reason.
    I hope I have brought this dog to the maximum potential that both genetics and upbringing allow. I don’t think there’s any way to know. I do think it’s almost always better to know less about the dog’s genetics and history so that it doesn’t cripple expectations and let you make excuses for lapses in your own training. The dog is what it is, and it’s going to be the best you, with all your baggage and blindspots, can make it.

  49. I know my girl’s parents and grandparents. I know half sibs, aunts, uncles and cousins. I’ve known the breeder for over 20 years. I know the pups were well treated and socialized.
    My girl has a screw loose and lacks confidence.
    At 3 months of age, she met the gaze of someone who came into my office. She promptly launched herself at them with a horrific growl, I caught her in mid air and crated her.
    I then decided that my office was too small and made it too easy for her to be threatened, and left her at home.
    My friend Eve said we needed to take her to every dog show that we could. Lucky me, there were so many of those less than 25 miles from my house.
    We put my pup on a table and let people give her cookies. No touching.
    They could ask her to sit, but still no touching.
    Eventually Hope could be in the ground and walk around, plenty of treats, no touching.
    Today … At the age of 8, I take her everywhere. She shows in agility and works stock. Strangers still can’t touch her. She is fine if we are with her.
    Her default will always be to act like she will gut you …
    Healthy whelping, good parents, and socialization. She is who she is. Not stable. (We spayed her, of course. Her hips were excellent. My only dog to get that rating. LOL)

  50. Poorly written and factually incorrect. Certainly any person with a computer and an ounce of smarts would know there there are NO mini Aussies. There is however a breed called Miniature American Shepherds abbreviated as MAS. Not the same as Aussie due to mixing in of many small breeds. Nothing like the Aussies in terms of size, structure, movement or temperament. Author discredited entire article with lack of basic knowledges of dog breeds. Shameful.

    • You can call them what you like but the fact is these crossbreeds are given designer names that stick

      • Sorry- but your information is misleading too. Most reputable minis are not crossbreeds. I can guarantee the minis I own have the same bloodlines as some foundation Aussies. Mine look like Aussies, act like Aussies and are smaller than your Aussies. They are pure Aussie just smaller. As a matter of historical fact– these Minis are more accurate to the original breed than the Aussie. Which, by the way, is a combination of several breeds. I can also guarantee that most dogs in the world that are registered as purebred dogs have more than one ancestor breed. What makes the dogs purebred is the fact they have been bred with genetic consistency for many years. Look it up. Ask the genetics experts.

    • No offense, but a basic Internet search produced a ton of info on Mini Aussies.


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