William Campbell, Dog Behavior Consultant has listed behavioral traits which are common to all breeds which influence temperament.
1. Excitability vs. Inhibitability:
This trait is an inherited tendency which in the excitable dog makes them extremely responsive to external stimuli. Field trial retrievers are selected for this trait because they need to be constantly aware of the hunt, the fall of the bird, etc. The inhibited dog shows more self control, and therefore is more easily trained.
The balance between excitability and inhibitability is a poised, assured dog. The extremely excitably dog would be wild and uncontrollable. The extreme of inhibitability would be withdrawn, rigid and lethargic dog.
2. Active vs. Passive Defense Reflexes:
This inherited trait is the tendency to react to stress by biting, freezing or running away. The dog with passive defense reflexes can only be induced to bite with great difficulty or under extreme duress.
The field trial retriever has been selected for passive defense reflex so as to avoid killing wounded birds, etc.
3. Dominant vs.Submissive:
The dominant dog is the one that would grow up to be the pack leader in the wild. This trait is expressed by biting, growling, mounting, direct eye contact, walking with head up, tail up, hackles up, etc. The domninant dog will have first pick of the food, places to sleep, etc.
The dominant dog may challenge his human master and needs constant, firm, calm handling. Lack of leadership on the owner’s part will result in the dog assuming the leadership status. They may be overprotective, nervous, refuse to obey and interfere with the owner’s interactions with other people.
Submissiveness is evident in the dog that accepts leadership. Behavioral traits are, nudging with the nose, pawing, tail down, ears down, lack of fighting, crouching and rolling over on their back, lack of eye contact, submitting to command. The submissive dog responds to training and readily accepts a human leader.
The extremely submissive dog that reacts to the slightest stress by crouching or tail tucking may be difficult to train. A lot of encouragement and gentle handling will be needed to build confidence and help the dog to adapt to the average household.
4. Independence vs. Social Attraction:
The independent dog is not interested in human beings. This may be due to poor socialization or simply that he is a loner. This dog may hunt well on his own. The socially attracted dog shows interest in people, enjoys being petted, follows humans easily and in general wants to be where they are.
The combination of traits with which a puppy is born will go into its temperament. The particular combination will result in a dog more suited for some things than others.
Shows the degree of social attraction, confidence or dependence.
Degree of following attraction. Not following indicates independence.
Degree of dominant or submissive tendency. How it accepts stress, when socially/physically dominated.
Degree of acceptance of social dominance. Pup may try to dominate by jumping and nipping or is independent and walks away.
Degree of accepting dominance while in position of no control.
Degree of willingness to work with a human. High correlation between ability to retrieve and successful guide dogs, obedience dogs and field trial dogs.
Degree of sensitivity to touch.
Degree of sensitivity to sound.
Degree of intelligent response to strange object.
Degree of structural soundness. Good structure is necessary.
Thanks to Cindy Williamson for the use of her puppies as models for the article!
Bartlett, Melissa, A Novice Looks At Puppy Aptitude Testing (AKC Gazette, 1979)
Campbell, William E., Behavior Problems in Dogs (American Veterinary Publications, 1975)