Do Genetics Determine a Dog's Personality?

by Jean Marie Bauhaus Google
Breed temperament plays a large role in determining a dog's personality.

Breed temperament plays a large role in determining a dog's personality.

Brand X Pictures/Digital Vision/Getty Images

It’s an age-old question: is personality determined by nature or by nurture? With nature, genes are the determining factor; whereas with nurture, personality is determined by environment and personal experience. With dogs, as with people, both factors come into play. However, genetics do play a large part in determining a dog’s temperament and personality.

What Is Temperament?

Although the terms “temperament” and “personality” are often used interchangeably, temperament is really only part of what makes up the overall personality of a dog. Temperament is a dog’s natural disposition, which is largely determined by his genetic makeup. Specific dog breeds have certain genetic temperament traits that are passed from generation to generation, just as they have certain physical traits.

What Is Personality?

Although genetic temperament plays a big part in determining a dog’s personality, it’s not the only factor. Personality is the overall combination of temperament, experience and environmental influences that make your dog unique. How a dog is treated, especially in the first few months of life, is also a big determining factor. For example, regardless of breed temperament, a dog who is raised by his mother, properly weaned and socialized will be much more easy-going, trusting and stable than a dog who’s been kept in a cage from a very young age.

The Role of Genetics

Dog breeds are created -- as they have been throughout history -- by selecting for certain physical and temperament traits. Subsequent generations are bred for these same traits until undesirable traits are bred out, genetic variability is reduced and the dogs “breed true” -- that is, puppies from any male or female of the same breed will possess the desirable traits. Crossing different breeds, as is often done with designer dogs such as labradoodles and cockapoos, can have the effect of balancing out any extreme temperament traits in either parent breed, creating dogs that are more balanced and even-keeled than their purebred parents. However, subsequent generations of cross-bred dogs -- in other words, breeding two labradoodles together -- can bring back the more extreme temperament traits of the original breeds in unpredictable combinations.

Dogs Are Individuals

Dogs, like people, are much more than just a bundle of pre-programmed genes. Although dog breeds in general have certain temperament traits that make their personalities somewhat predictable, which can be useful in selecting the right breed for your home, individual dogs have unique combinations of temperament and experience that make it impossible to predict how their personalities will manifest. No two dogs’ personalities are exactly alike -- not even purebred dogs from the same litter. Mixed-breed dogs are even more unpredictable, especially those made up of multiple breeds. For this reason, when considering adding a dog to your family, it is useful to know as much about his personal history as you know about his breed.

Photo Credits

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About the Author

After more than a decade of devoting her people-helping skills to the confines of one company, one department, one office at a time, Jean Bauhaus has decided that it's finally time to remove the boundaries and expand her availability to the far reaches of the Internet. She has worked in the corporate world, in various support roles, since 1997, all the while honing her skills in web design, blogging and desktop publishing, and refining her craft as a writer of both non-fiction and prose. She has also decided that the time has come to parlay years of experience copy editing and proofreading papers, articles, short stories and novels for friends and colleagues into a workable profession, having recently completed formal copy editor training at Mediabistro. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma with her husband Matt and their three pets. When she's not working for clients, she's usually working on her novel.