Tag Archives: dog personality

Picture of a brindle French Bulldog sitting in the sun to illustrate Your Dog's Not Stubborn

Dogs Are Not Stubborn

When people describe their dogs, almost all will include the word “stubborn” in their dog’s story. We hear it all the time. But when we ask for an example, most people will tell us a story where the dog is either uncertain, or unmotivated. Your dog’s not stubborn. It’s really not a dog thing. 

If your dog isn’t doing what you want them to do when you want them to do it, that’s not stubborn. Your dog is telling you either they don’t understand what you want, or you haven’t given them a good reason to do it.

The most rewarding thing

Dogs always do the thing that’s most rewarding to them. The tricky part for people is figuring out what that is. Because you don’t get to decide how valuable anything is to your dog. Just like people, dogs have their own opinions, tastes, and preferences.

Picture of a brindle French Bulldog sitting in the sun to illustrate Dogs Aren't Stubborn

Two of our dogs scour the yard searching for rabbit poop to consume. We hate that. It’s completely disgusting. But to get them to stop, we have to offer something better. Fortunately, Chicken Heart Treats are better than bunny pellets. So when we know there’s a rabbit spending time in our yard, our treat pouches are full of high-value treats. There are times when our usual Cheerios and Kibble mix won’t do.

That’s an instance where the fix is pretty easy. Could we have said our dogs were being “stubborn” about not coming inside? Or “stubbornly” doing something we’ve told them not to? Sure. But they’re not actually being stubborn. They’re being dogs.

Just don’t get it

The other situation we hear about is when the dog either “ignores” a command, or disengages and walks away. Most people describe these as being stubborn.

But it’s not. Both of those are clear indicators that your dog doesn’t understand what it’s supposed to do. And it happens to everybody. You think your dog knows something, but they’re either not sure, or the situation is different.

We see this most often in our beginner classes. People think their dogs know something, like “Sit!”, and yet when they’re asked to do it, they don’t. 

One of the quirks in the way dogs think is that they don’t generalize. That means they can’t easily transition learning to different circumstances. People are wired to generalize. For example – when a person learns how to use a fork, they can use any fork. No matter what it looks like, what it’s made of, or where they are. Dogs can’t naturally do that. If you teach your dog to “Sit!” in the kitchen, with a treat in your hand, standing in front of the dog, that’s how your dog knows sit. To have your dog broaden their understanding of “Sit!” you have to teach it in other places, standing beside the dog, without a treat, etc. Dogs can be taught to generalize, but it’s not part of their default settings. 

Dogs are not stubborn

Putting a label like “stubborn” on your dog colors how you treat them. And what you expect from them. 

Try looking at the situation from your dog’s perspective and see how it changes things. If your dog is doing something they find incredibly fun, what can you do to make your choice more attractive? If your dog isn’t doing something you ask, take a couple of minutes and a handful of treats to reinforce the behavior you want. 

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Do you enjoy your dog?

We saw a social media post from a dog behaviorist friend that got us thinking. She said that few people enjoy their dogs. We thought it was an odd thing to say – until we read further. After all, dogs are supposedly our best friends, our companions, and members of our families. So – do you enjoy your dog?

What it means

Are you able to live your life with a calm, even-tempered companion dog? Can you welcome family and friends into your home with minimal fuss and without worry? Is taking a walk with your dog a source of stress, or a pleasant way to spend time together?

We realize that the majority of our friend’s contact with dog owners is through her work – people who need her help. But it makes us wonder if her point is valid. We wonder how many people spend time and energy managing their dogs instead of enjoying them. It’s one thing to have a trainable dog who just needs some manners. It’s another to have a dog that requires constant management.

How did this happen?

Part of the problem is the cacophony of voices preaching “adopt, don’t shop.” The loudest ones also seem to believe that every single dog should be saved, fostering the “no-kill shelter” concept.

In theory, that’s a noble goal. In practice, it’s impractical and dangerous.

Personality counts

Few shelters and many rescues don’t do temperament testing on the dogs they take in. And most people, wishing to do the “right” thing, visit a shelter and fall in love with a dog that may not be a good fit for their family. Instead of a pet, they wind up with a project. 

That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Dogs should enhance our lives, not add stress.

And when people realize the situation is untenable, they feel like failures if the dog must go back to the shelter. 

Case in point

Many people don’t realize, and shelters don’t publicize, the fact that dogs are generally on their best behavior when first adopted. Once they start feeling secure, their true personalities start to emerge. People who think they’ve adopted a calm, well-mannered dog can find themselves with a naughty whirlwind. 

That’s fine, as long as everyone’s prepared to deal with the dog as it is. But what if the emergent personality isn’t a good fit?

A lovely family came to our dog club’s Beginner Obedience Class with their newly-adopted medium-sized dog. The dog was an unknown quantity, having arrived at the shelter only three days before her adoption. As the weeks passed, the dog’s true personality was revealed as she became more secure in her adoptive home. And it wasn’t good.

The family included three children under 10 years old. The dog was reactive to sudden movement. And loud noises. The dog’s reactivity included lunging and snapping at the children. It was heartbreaking for the family when, heeding our advice, they returned the dog to the shelter. 

Thank goodness they listened. It wasn’t the right home for the dog. And not the right dog for the family.

Personality counts to enjoy your dog

There are terrific shelters and rescues that emphasize placing dogs where they’ll thrive. They get to know the dogs’ personalities and find the right fit for each animal. That’s why a shelter or rescue will ask you a million questions you don’t think are any of their business. They’re trying to be matchmakers, with a forever outcome. You’re entitled to a nice dog that suits you. You should enjoy your dog.

Seek out places that get to know the dogs. Or find a reputable breeder of purebred dogs in a breed that fits your lifestyle. They’re not hard to find – you just have to know to look for them.  

Pick one word for your dog

If you could use only one word for your dog, what would it be?

Just for a fun exercise, think about your dog. If you have more than one, like we do, just focus on one at a time. Is there a single word or short phrase that would distinguish that dog’s personality so everyone who knows him or her would recognize who you were talking about? 

It wouldn’t be a complete description, but just the outstanding feature that allows that dog to stand out.

Puppy personalities

It’s a given – dog people understand that all dogs, even siblings, have distinct personalities, just like people. We don’t know too many non-dog people, but we get the impression they don’t understand that “this dog” is different from “that dog.” As if there were a great mass of dog, and any chunk of the dog mass is indistinguishable from any other chunk.

Dog personalities are somewhat defined by breed. Breeds were developed to bring out not only certain physical traits, but psychological ones as well. Anyone who’s ever owned a terrier knows that independence is part of the package. Just as intensity comes with Border Collies, and willingness is right there with Golden Retrievers.

Box of chocolates

People are drawn to particular breeds because of both looks and personalities. We’ve always been partial to flat-faced dogs. Part of that is because our first dog was a Boston Terrier. Now our preference, and our household, includes Bostons, French Bulldogs, and Brussels Griffons. In all honesty, if space, time, and finances allowed, we’d probably wind up with a dozen or more. Of each.

Even within a breed, each dog is distinct. Now we have two Bostons in the house at the same time – a first for us. And our one-word descriptions indicate the differences in their personalities. Simon is persistent. Booker is a flibertigibbet.

It was also true when there were two Griffs. Tango, who’s still with us, is silly. Roc was sober. And Golly, who was the inspiration for our business, was one hundred percent diva.

The Frenchies couldn’t be more different, either. Torque is sweet. Teddy was irresistible, but selfish. If there was one dog who invariably got what he wanted, it was Ted.

What’s your dog’s one word?

When you have your one word for your dog, what do you do with it?

For us, with the joy we get from building our bond and their brains with training games, it colors the way we play with them. 

Even if we’re playing the same game, like “put your toys away,” the way we interact with each dog changes. 

Simon learns quickly and focuses intensely. Booker has to be kept “on task.” Tango has days where he’s all about the game – other days he just doesn’t want to play. Torque loves playing any game. He’s the epitome of loving what he does, so he never “works” a day in his life.

One word for you, too

Now that you’ve considered your dog – how about you? What’s a word that your best friend would use to describe you? And how does that mesh with your dog’s word? 

Figuring out those definitions is a puzzle that’s a bit intriguing to think about, and may help your family work even better. 

Getting to know dog personality

Aside from you – what’s your dog’s favorite thing in the whole wide world?

Least favorite (aside from a visit to the vet)?

Personality shines through

Dogs have likes and dislikes. We respect that. And we think most dog owners do, too. 

Years ago we had a Brussels Griffon named Whimsy. He was, without doubt, the most adorable dog ever to walk the face of the planet. (Aside from yours, of course!) A non-dog-owning friend of ours couldn’t resist petting him on the top of his head. He hated that. We told her so. And her reaction was pretty much: “too bad. He’s a dog and I’ll do what I want.”

Mr. Personality - a black Brussels Griffon looking into the camera

Needless to say, Whimsy wasn’t a fan and avoided her whenever possible. And, years later when our friend finally got a dog of her own, she finally understood. There were things that her dog didn’t like. So she found herself saying “But he doesn’t like that.” 

People without pets, or unfamiliar with animals don’t really understand that they have personalities, just like people do. It’s more than not liking going to the doctor, or liking car rides, or hating the sound of thunder. They all have distinct personalities and it takes a while to get to know them.

Emerging personalities

Golly Gear is often an early stop after dogs are adopted from a local shelter. And we get to hear how amazing the new family member is – how sweet, cute, quiet, obedient, etc. We ask how long the new addition has been home, and it’s usually less than a month.

We’ve learned, through the years, to share a word or two of caution. Dogs’ real personalities come out when they know they’re secure. A newly-adopted dog is “testing the water” – not sure what’s going on, not sure he/she is staying, not sure who these people are.

Once the dog figures out that he/she is home, safe, and these people belong to him/her – things may change.

The previously angelic dog may turn into a naughty, scampy, mischief-maker. The dog who never put a paw wrong may start testing the rules, just like any teenagers starting to spread their wings.

Getting to know you

One of our favorite places on the planet is the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, Florida. We have many friends there, including the couple dozen dolphins, many of them born at the facility, who live there. 

The reason we love it there is the emphasis on “research.” The dolphins are active participants in all kinds of training and research studies – from learning concepts like “less” and “more,” to imitating behaviors, to husbandry data.

DRC has developed “dolphinality” descriptions of all their resident dolphins. Each has a distinct personality, just as we do, just as our dogs do! And, if they don’t feel like playing that day, or that session, they don’t have to. Because, just like us, they not only have personalities, they have moods!

Moody today

Dogs have moods, too. Today is a stormy, thundery day. Fortunately, none of our dogs is terrified by thunder-boomers, but Booker is a little bit on edge. Distracting him with little training games helps a bit, but he has focus issues at the best of times. That’s his personality. 

What’s your dog’s personality?

According to experts, there are five dog personality types: 

  • Confident – the leader of the pack
  • Shy or Timid – needs time and patience to blossom.
  • Independent – a best friend who enjoys some alone time, too.
  • Happy – loves everyone and everything, sometimes to excess
  • Adaptable – up for anything you want to do, from adventures to chilling on the couch.

Acknowledging your dog’s personality type may help you understand how best to live happily together. A shy dog may not love going to the farmer’s market with you, while a happy dog may be too much.  And that’s okay. If it’s important to you, you can get there in time.

Mixed bag

Like us, most dogs are a mixture of personality types. Mostly this, with a little bit of that and the other thrown in.

What’s your dog’s personality type?