Our Dogs' Personalities
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Canine Behavior Associates
Academy of Dog Behavior
Level I - Starts on September 11, 2016
If you're interested in learning more about dog behavior or becoming a professional in the dog world, check out the Academy. This 40 hour class is convenient for working people, avoids the commute (Sunday afternoons at Humane Society Silicon Valley), and you'll meet a bunch of great people.  The next class starts September 11th  and runs through November 20th For more info, please click here:   Academy of Dog Behavior
Advanced Modules for Academy Grads at
Humane Society Silicon Valley
  • The Art of Consulting will be held from 1:00 to 5:00 pm on Sundays, August 7, 14 and 21, 2016
  • Leash Reactivity will be held from 1:00 to 5:00 pm on Saturdays, October 29th, November 5th and November 12th.

Dog Personalities

We’ve just been teaching a Reactive Dog Class in the Academy, and have been struck at how very different the dogs are – even dogs who have ostensibly the same problem:  Dog Reactivity.  The object of the class is to help the dogs relax in public, and to become more reliable when they see other dogs.   We run the class like a clinic – one or two dogs at a time – and while we may use some similar behavior modification techniques, the way each dog responds is likely to be quite different.  (We’ll discuss the actual techniques in next month’s newsletter)
Pretty much every minute of every day, our dogs tell us who they are and how they respond to the world around them.  Of course, they’re dogs, so their responses will be doglike.  For instance, unless they’re fixated on something, like a ball, treat or cat, they are constantly drinking in the environment.  Fearful dogs do that even more than confident dogs.  They are masters of minutiae – we humans tend to lump everything together, like a copse of trees or house with yard.  Dogs see the specifics; they’re interested in that bush, that tree, that fence.  Humans tend to work on a clock – we have deadlines.  Dogs have no such deadlines – nothing except us people dictate when they should do what.  (which isn’t to say they don’t have an internal clock; they most definitely do! They know when to expect certain activities, but it’s because we have taught them to).   When faced with a problem, their instincts will tell the dog which to do – to fight, flee, freeze or shut down.

But within those general dog behaviors, our dogs have as many different personalities as do people.  In our little family, Flaca, the Chihuahua, is a complete follower.   She adores Aspen, the Pomeranian mix, which is a mixed blessing, because Aspen doesn’t always model appropriate behavior!  When we go for a walk, Flaca doesn’t need to be on leash.  She’s walking right behind us.  This is frustrating, because we’d like to actually see her, but it’s what she prefers.  If we meet a person, Flaca will try to investigate from behind, and will run quickly away if she’s approached.  If a dog or person approaches abruptly, Flaca will often flip over on her back, scrunch her eyes, pull back her lips and squeak uncle.  On the other hand, if Aspen is with her, she may bark, seeing as she has backup from her fluffy companion.
Contrast her with the Pomeranian mix, Aspen.  She’s pretty sure the world is filled with Only Good Things, and she wants to get there first.  Aspen has a great deal of bravado, which doesn’t always hold up under pressure. Without companions, Aspen’s confidence drops substantially.   By and large, Aspen will approach other dogs confidently, and, if Flaca is with her, even boldly.  If the other dog gets into her face, she'll discipline them. 
Flaca loves to be touched and petted; Aspen enjoys it briefly, but will then shake the human off and find a quiet place to lie down.  If you chastise her, she’ll shake that off too, but then she’ll shun you and make you feel bad.  Is Aspen a Leader dog?  She may think she is, but actually, she’s just a diva.
Boo, the Aussie mix, is an interesting mix – first, he’s an explorer.  In his heyday, he would slip off on a country walk and reappear ten minutes later, looking satisfied with his foray.  He never disappeared for longer and he never got into trouble.  You'd think from that that he's independent.  But indeed, he is also one of the most naturally compliant dogs we’ve had the honor of knowing.   He could almost read your intentions, and act on them before you were ready.  On the other hand, he has very little of what’s called drive.   Like a Good Soldier, he does what you ask, no questioning. 
Deedee did have drive.  She would chase a ball until she dropped from exhaustion, if allowed.  She also had distinct opinions about who could hug who, and how long they could do it.  Dee was a beautiful, charming controller, truly dedicated to her owner and whatever jobs she figured she was supposed to do.  
Strider, the German Shepherd Dog, was also complex.  He had wanderlust and separation anxiety, combined with claustrophobia.   Seems that when on the trail, he forgot how much he needed his person.   He also was the most congenial of dogs – never met a person or other dog he couldn’t get along with (except one particular Golden Retriever!).   He was a peacemaker, knowing just what an anxious dog needed to calm down.   Strider was a great mediator. 
Luke, the bully mix, reacts so quickly to stimulation that he can be downright exhausting.   Very insecure, he sees threats where there are none, and he reacts by explosively barking and lunging.  He gives neither himself nor his humans time to think, and it takes him a long time to calm down.  And he’s an adrenalin addict, so once he gets a hit, he wants another.  Introductions to new dogs can be painfully slow, although once he knows them, he’s cool.  He lets the little dogs romp all over him.
So it’s no wonder that there’s no One Size Fits All training method.  It might be easier on us to think there is, but a technique that works with an Aspen or Boo might fail utterly with a Flaca or Luke, and be only marginally successful with a Strider. 

Training Approaches

The Timid Follower:  by and large, any methods you use with a natural follower should capitalize on trust.  She’ll need to be acclimated to new environments slowly, and be allowed to retreat and regroup as needed.   Stress takes a lot of energy, and each dog has only so much of that.  So if you were getting your Follower used to city life, your outings might be only five or ten minutes long, or might start by observation from a safety zone (car or stroller).  It would be best for this dog to have a canine mentor – someone to look up to.
Most people are looking for the Good Soldier, though they may not know that.  That would be a dog who wants to do what you want to do when you want to do it.   They may have behavior problems, but those problems will often respond to a wide variety of modification methods, even if poorly executed.   They’re resilient, affectionate and confident, but would rather not have to make executive decisions. 
The Sensitive Diva is complex and challenging.  She’ll do what you want, as long as there’s something in it for her, and if there isn’t, she’ll balk.  So, she needs to feel there’s always something to work for – comfort, food or fun.   If you use punishment, she will shut down.  This dog can be a great competitor; easy to train and great to watch.  She needs challenges to be at her best. 
Mr. Reactivity is also difficult, if only because you have to be on your best game whenever you’re working with him.  If you miss an oncoming dog, human, bicycle or whatever, you can be sure he won’t, and you’ll have an over-excited mess on your hands.  It’s exhausting.    Because he’s at the mercy of his reflexes, he’s never totally reliable, often even after years of training.  Dogs like this tend to respond best to predictable routine, and thousands of repetitions of common exercises. 
Lots of people own Controllers – dogs who worry when you get too close to a loved one, for instance, or you have too much energy.  They’ll bark when you hug, and sometimes nip if you’re noisy or too active.  They respond well to training, but still, sometimes they think you’re not making the right decision, and will override you.   If it seems your Controller is treating you like a sheep, well.....

These are only a few of the myriad of personalities our dogs have.  We owe it to them to respect their individuality and treat them well. 
What’s your dog’s personality like?  Controller, Soldier, Diva, Bully, Follower, or something else, they all have their special needs!
Next Month - Exercises that Work Well with Reactive Dogs
Keep your dogs safe this July 4th Holiday.  They have no idea why we are so weird and like to blow things up!
If you or someone you know would like a consultation, or to see a topic covered in this newsletter, please email
Trish King
Tricia Breen

Art by Robin King
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