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Undestanding Personality Types of Dogs

By: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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Predatory Tendencies

Dogs are, of course, predators. It is an innate trait that was, at one time, necessary for their survival. Not so today, but the trait goes on! As far as prey drive goes, all pups are equally endowed – but some are more equally endowed than others! Breeds developed for hunting, herding, chasing, or killing varmints, in general have higher prey drive but there are line and individual differences, too.

High prey drive is not something an owner can do something about – nothing reasonable, anyway. A pup either has it in abundance or not. However, it is good to be able to recognize it for what it is so that it can be directed appropriately and contained where necessary. Unless real prey is around (which we do not recommend), the only way to check on a pup's prey drive is to assess its interactions with moving objects, like thrown tennis balls or drawn toys, and to assess the way it deal with small furry toys (prey facsimiles). Pups that are obsessed with tennis balls have high prey drive. Pups that chase objects that are pulled along in front of them have high prey drive. Pups that give stuffed toys "a good ragging," shaking them violently from side to side between clenched jaws, are actual acting out a killing sequence. They, too, have high prey drive.

As time goes by, pups with high prey drive sometimes displace this drive onto unacceptable substrates, such as joggers, skate boarders, cyclists, and automobiles. This is something to guard against. Denying the pup an opportunity to hone such skills is an important counter measure. For example, a pup with high prey drive should not be placed in the front yard behaving a fence where it can practice fence running and chasing passers by. Also, dogs with high prey drive should be watched carefully when a new baby is brought to the house if unfortunate accidents are to be avoided. And running children, as in a children's backyard party, can sometimes awaken otherwise quiescent predatory instincts to chase and nip. If precautions are not taken, even the most successful children's' party can end in tears.


This is perhaps the hardest quality to assess. Some pups are more stable in mood while others are changeable and sometimes overly active/reactive. There are layed back pups and more energetic, more volatile types. For cats, the term equable (meaning evenness of mood) is used to describe this trait. This term is equally applicable for dogs. All pups go from extremes of sleeping to fits of "the maddies," a sort of crash-burn lifestyle, but some are more mercurial than others. Think about them as being "Type A" personalities (reactionary) or "Type B" (long suffering, layed back). Moodiness couples with fearfulness may express itself as separation anxiety or thunderstorm phobia. Or if coupled with aggression might lead to the "Jeckyl and Hyde" syndrome of dominance aggression a.k.a. conflict-induced aggression. It is best to try to stabilize moody pups' humor by ensuring a consistent environment and clear communication between it and its owner.


While this article had addressed only fundamental aspects of pups' personalities, the combinations and permutations of these 4 different personality "building blocks" creates the plethora of personality type encountered in real life. Current puppy temperament tests assess qualities such as social attraction and following – which have to do with dominance, independence, and fearfulness together. A really dominant, confident, and non fearful pup will not pay much attention to the beckon call or follow its owner (or tester) like a lost sheep. Many of the other tests that are commonly performed are designed to test dominance (e.g. elevation test, rolling, pinning, restraint), fearfulness (e.g. noise sensitivity), predatory instinct (retrieving, "chase instinct"), and stability (unfurling an umbrella).

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