A dog’s ‘temperament’ means its natural disposition, a mixture of moods that may or may not be related to its physical wellbeing. Temperament is all important when it comes to buying a dog because temperament matters to us.
Will a dog be easy to anger? Will she be timid? Will she be stubborn?
When it comes to finding the perfect dog we want to know as much about its temperament as possible. If we have young children, doing so is especially important.
What is 'temperament'?
The temperament of the dog varies between breeds but on the whole a well-rounded, well-socialised dog exhibits the same gentle, affectionate and loyal persuasions as others similarly well brought up.
- Prey drive: How likely is your dog to chase smaller animals or behave at meal times?
- Aggression: How likely is she to try to dominate people and other dogs?
- Protectiveness: By what means does she show a protectiveness of her owner(s)?
- Confidence: Is she over confident or simply happy? Is she sociable?
- Friendliness: How does she express her friendliness? Is she tolerant of children?
- Stability: How does she respond to tactile, visual and auditory stimuli?
- Pack hierarchy: Is she aware of her place in the human ‘pack’?
- Intelligence: Is she bored easily? Is she trainable?
The quality of these traits is often predictable of purebreds. However, should a dog be maltreated, kept confined or abandoned her tolerance, trust and natural disposition are tested. This is especially true of dogs that are cared for by rescue centres.
1. Italian greyhound
You may not be surprised to learn that the most noticeable temperament of the Italian greyhound breed is a high prey drive. The sight of a small animal sets her into chase-mode, and at a top speed of 25 mph you may be hard-pressed to do much about it. She is not an aggressive dog despite her want to chase and she is somewhat shy of new people. She is otherwise a friendly, intelligent and trainable dog with a streak of mischief about her. She is known to be a little nervous of loud noises and bright lights; thunderstorms are a special fear of the Italian greyhound.
Despite its rather savage history the bulldog is not prey driven. In fact, the well-adjusted bulldog exhibits no signs of aggression unless she herself is baited beyond her famed tolerance. She is no more a guard dog than a poodle nor renowned for her supreme intelligence. However, this makes the bulldog a stable and undemanding dog. She is mild-mannered around children and other dogs, and her docile nature allows her to slot in perfectly among a family pecking order. The bull dog is a dog with one of the best temperaments.
Her hound heritage has given her a lust for the outdoors. Her nose is finely tuned to the scents of other dogs and wild animals, and she may have a tendency to follow such a scent to the ends of the earth. The beagle is however a dog with a good temperament and trustworthy, and with substantial training she can learn the recall. Her aloofness often means that she can make do without interaction with the family as long as her exercise needs are met. Games are a big love for the beagle and they cement her bond with the rest of the family. Beagles have a tendency to bark and howl at virtually anything.
4. Brussels griffon
A small dog with a good temperament is the Brussels griffon. Bred as a toy dog she has little prey drive and is not known to be quick to anger. She is however known to be short of patience and shows this in stubbornness. She also is known to carry an air of self-importance. The Griffon tends to bond better with one family member and may exhibit some jealousy if her chosen person is engaged elsewhere. Because of their size a griffon does not do well with rough and tumble playtimes, and constant badgering from children may force her to remind them that she is more of a dog than a toy.
The Vizsla was originally bred as a pointer-retriever and therefore exhibits a high prey drive. You may have trouble distracting her from interesting scents when you are on a walk. However, she is intelligent and such traits can easily be trained away. She is known as a mild-mannered dog and forms close bonds with all of the family (rather than just one person); she is also known for her tolerance of children. The Vizsla is an exceptionally alert and active dog though, so a family who owns one needs to be as active. Long walks, interaction and training will keep the Vizsla happy.
Although the poodle was once a faithful gun dog those days are well and truly behind it. Poodles do not have a great interest in chasing smaller animals and are more likely to be inquisitive of them than aggressive. Standard poodles have a more balanced temperament than toy poodles, the latter having a tendency to be overly protective, nervy and keen to assert their dominance. Standard poodles are intelligent animals that like to learn and to please their owner. They are tolerant of children and easily find their place in a family hierarchy.
How can you be sure that a dog has the best temperament? To take the puppy’s temperament as a guide is of little use but some pedigrees (having been bred over the years) have predictable traits. To look for a dog with a good temperament may therefore lead you to choose a purebred of the kind of character well-documented by its breeders. If in doubt you should talk to others who have a dog and ask them questions about its character.