In my previous article, I talked about the
three factors that I believe are the foundation of a dog’s personality. In
review, these are pack orientation (drive to dominate/need to submit), innate
intelligence, and confidence level. I briefly mentioned how important environmental
factors are in shaping a personality. The most influential environmental
factors will be explored in this article.
Dogs, like children, are extremely sensitive
to the energies within their environment. Negative and/or tension filled atmospheres
adversely affect a dog’s physical and mental health as well as their spirit.
Many times, the humans involved in such an environment have unconsciously
blocked the negativity. Our canine friends do not have this ability. They
generally cope through “behavioral problems” such as self-mutilation, excessive
barking, digging, disobedience, and aggression. Some dogs “shut down”
spiritually which is seen in a change in their personality. Occasionally, a dog
may choose to die than continue in such an environment. This may sound odd, but
I have experienced it with one of my girls.
Patricia (Ch. Long Hill’s Sweet Patricia CD CAMO) was a very sweet and gentle lady who, on the outside, seemed to be doing
all right when we were living in an extremely difficult situation. In addition,
she was kenneled with a male who, like his male owner, was very difficult to
live with. Patricia had had enough. In four days, she went from being a
perfectly healthy 10 year old to total body shut down and eventual peace.
During the difficult passage of time that my
dogs and horses went through, I tried to cope as best as I could. However, it
didn’t hit home to me how much stress the negative atmosphere/ environment was
creating in all of us until I really looked at the photos of my dogs taken
shortly before our escape and compared them to the happy and relaxed faces I
A loving, nurturing, and safe environment is
ideal for raising a puppy or a child. While no home is devoid of occasional
stressful periods, if the basic atmosphere is positive and safe, the stress
periods can actually help to positively shape a personality. The key, of
course, is the amount and frequency of the stress.
The safe environment in which a youngster
grows particularly affects the intelligence and confidence aspects of a
personality. An intelligent dog, in a safe and positively orientated
environment, can have the opportunity to learn new activities and skills. The
same dog in a negative environment may not have the same learning opportunities
and may well use its intelligence to stay safe or deal with the negativity and
stress in the best way they can.
But more importantly, the environment
affects the dog’s confidence level. In a safe environment even the dog who
naturally has little confidence will be nurtured and not feel threatened. A
negative/unsafe environment destroys confidence particularly in very gentle
individuals with low levels of confidence.
Exposing a puppy to a variety of situations,
people, and other experiences has a direct correlation with the level of
confidence an adult dog exhibits. As Jean Donaldson emphasizes in her excellent
book “The Culture Shock”, a young puppy can never be “over-socialized”. All too
frequently, pups (particularly in multi-dog households) tend to be
While it is important to socialize the pup
extensively during the critical first six months when the recovery or “bounce
back’ time from stress is lessened, the handler must always be aware of the
individuality of each pup and proceed at the pup’s level. Pushing a gentle pup
with little innate confidence too hard and too quickly to accept a lot of
varying stimuli can have the opposite effect desired. Such a pup easily reverts
into a panic/reactive state. A pup in a panic/reactive state is not thinking.
Successful socialization requires the pup to learn positively from the
experiences. This requires the pup to relax and think. In such times, the
handler must exude confidence, calmness, and a feeling that everything is safe
and you (pup) won’t be harmed. Voice tones must be very matter of fact yet
calming. Touch must be calm, firm, and quiet. The handler’s mind must also be
calm as dogs react to what isn’t said more frequently than to what the handler
is trying to communicate.
In my experience, I’ve found that the Canine
Einsteins are the most challenging to socialize. Their high level of awareness
to everything in their environment coupled with a high intellect can easily put
these individuals into sensory overload. When this happens, they revert to the
panic/reactive states. Socialization with these individuals must be as
carefully done as with the innately lower confidence pup. While they will learn
rapidly and at astonishing speeds, they must be “allowed” to progress at their
rate. Pushing a Canine Einstein into accepting a “scary” situation (in their
minds) will rapidly backfire and it will be more difficult for the dog to
accept that same situation in the future.
With many dogs, the fear periods usually
occur at traditionally accepted times such as the three to four month stage.
But this isn’t necessarily true for all dogs - particularly the intellectually
gifted. Handlers must be aware that without ongoing attention to socialization,
the very bright dogs could easily “slip” into another fear period in their
adolescent months (generally 12 to 24 months.) If the dog has been abused,
traumatized (mentally or physically), fear periods can also continue to appear.
With attention now focused on early
socialization and how it can affect personality development, breeders can
affect a pup’s confidence level by how a pup and its environment is managed
before it leaves.
Handling a pup securely and gently before
its eyes and ears have opened will acquaint a pup with different sensations.
Different scents (human and environmental) will also acquaint the pup with a
variety of sensory experiences at this time.
A very critical time, I feel, is the time
span between the pup’s eyes opening and the pup is about four weeks of age.
Physically, the pups are becoming aware of their environment as their senses
and physical skills develop. Rough handling or over-stimulation at this age
imprints fear into pups - even ones who may have been very confident. As the
pups develop, different but safe experiences should be incorporated into their
environment. Such experiences could be a different locale (eg. taking the pup
outside to explore or into a different room with different footing), different
dogs (eg. other mature dogs socializing with the pups with an accepting momma),
different physical objects (eg. toys, crates, household furniture), and
different sounds (eg. music, vacuums and other appliances.)
Helping a pup gain self-confidence does
require the owner to have a safe, calm encouraging manner as well as dedication
to exposing the pup to a multitude of experiences.
The biggest effect upon personalities I see
with educating my dogs is the sparkle that appears in their face and eyes.
Their sense of humor and self-confidence blossoms. They become more “alive”.
Education also increases the human-canine bond which can only have positive
effects upon both.
Such “sparkle producing” education is
accomplished through positive reinforcement methods. Clicker training in
particular is highly inducive for the dog. This results in a dog who has
discovered the joy in learning new things. The handler, of course, must always
teach lessons at the dog’s rate of learning to retain their desire and
Negative/Punishment teaching methods do not
add joy to a dog’s eyes let alone their personality. Malamutes, in particular,
do not “learn well” with these methods. Perhaps this is where the Malamutes got
the erroneous reputation of being stupid or stubborn as early obedience
training methods were negative/punishment based.
While I am a strong believer and proponent
of teaching with positive reinforcements, I am also aware that appropriately
timed negative reinforcements are also important in the dog’s education. Dogs
need to learn the boundaries of what is and what is not acceptable behavior.
For example, a strategically placed mousetrap(s) along a counter top gives
immediate negative reinforcement to the counter-cruising canine.
While a dog’s basic personality is strongly
genetically wired, the environmental factors such as the home environment,
socialization, and education can influence how the pup develops. All facets of
a pup’s “hard wiring” (pack orientation, intelligence level, confidence level)
can be influenced by any/all of the environmental factors discussed.
It is also important for the handler to
realize that personalities are dynamic. For instance, if the education isn’t
given, a hard wired sweet pup can evolve into a dominating out of control
nuisance. In another case, a sweet loving individual who is subjected to
multiple stressors can evolve into a fearful highly stressed individual. With a
change in education and home environment, both individuals can possibly be
salvaged and rehabilitated.
Every dog is an individual. This should be
every handler’s mantra. To help each individual dog become their very best with
poise, confidence, manners, and sparkle, handlers must continually assess their
dog. Various environmental factors that influence their dog’s well-being are
dynamic which will necessitate changes in the dog’s education, socialization
etc. A handler who does these dynamic evaluations will get the “ideal” and
desired dog - a content, confident, sparkling Happy Dog!
|Copyright © 2002 Ruth Kellogg. All rights reserved.