Tag Archives: dog personality

Picture of a Boston Terrier lying down to illustrate hard dog soft dog

What is a “hard” dog? Or a “soft” dog?

Dog personalities are described as “hard” or “soft.” It’s often described as something you know when you see it, but hard to describe. Because we’re discussing the differences, the pros, cons, and challenges of each, we did a little search on how others define the traits. What is a hard dog? What about a soft dog?

We were pretty surprised by what we found. As if we were still in the dark ages of dog training, the top results talked about how “hard” dogs are notable for being able to withstand harsh punishment. That’s not it. Not at all. No dog should ever have to endure physical punishment. Both science and common decency have proven positive reinforcement is a more effective (and humane) way to train dogs. 

We wanted to get that out of the way. That’s not what we’re talking about when we define dog personalities as “hard” or “soft.” At the most basic level, the major difference between the two personalities would be confidence. “Hard” dogs tend to be more confident than “soft” dogs. Most dogs probably fall somewhere in the middle, showing characteristics of both.

Interestingly, you’ll find both types of dogs described as “stubborn.” But stubborn isn’t really a dog thing, it’s a people personality trait. If you ask or tell your dog to do something and they don’t, it’s either because they don’t understand what you want, or it’s not sufficiently rewarding to do it.

Hard dog defined

Picture of a Boston Terrier lying down to illustrate hard dog soft dog

By most measures, Fran’s Boston Terrier Simon could be considered a “hard” dog. He has a temper and he can lash out if he’s thwarted. He also wants to be part of everything that goes on. The other part of that personality is that he’s quick on the uptake, learns new things quickly, and loves playing training games. Most of the time, as in this picture, Simon shows us “soft” eyes and is a pleasure to have around.

He’s also moody. When he’s in one of his moods, Simon’s eyes get hard and he’s looking for a reason to go after one of the other dogs. If you’ve never had a dog with “hard eyes,” you may not know what we’re talking about. When we see it, we’ve learned to lower the stress level and change his focus. 

One of the terrific aspects of having a “hard” dog is they don’t shut down when they don’t understand. They’ll keep trying until they get the answer. This is probably the most glaring difference between “hard” and “soft” dogs.

Soft dog features

Soft dogs tend to be more timid and less confident. These are the dogs that will hide behind their person in unfamiliar situations. They’re also the ones who need encouragement to try new things. In their own way, soft dogs can be exhausting. It’s tough always being a cheerleader.

One of the best parts of the soft dog personality is they tend to be sweet and cuddly. Interestingly, there’s a Chocolate Lab in Hope’s beginner class who pretends to be a hard dog, barking and jumping for attention. But he’s actually a softie and quite uncertain. This guy isn’t sure what to do, so acts in a way that always gets his owner’s attention. He’s looking for someone to tell him what to do, and he’s getting it. Building up his confidence, without catering to his insecurities, is the goal. 

Training solves most problems

Both “hard” and “soft” dogs’ personalities mellow somewhere in the middle when they know what’s expected of them and how to act. Regardless of where your dog comes in on the scale, just recognizing why they’re acting the way they are can make life easier. Most dogs are somewhere in the middle, sometimes showing all the confidence in the world. And other times they’re unsure and need reassurance. Just as people, dogs’ personalities are complex. 

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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.