When my mom got her first baby girl, she tried to raise her as she was raised herself, and with what she saw other parents around her do. The baby developed into a healthy curious human being but drove my mother crazy – once she was able to, she opened every drawer and took everything she could reach into her chubby hands and mouth. Despite what others told my mom she shouldn’t do, she decided to baby proof her house more; keeping things in closed (sealed) cupboards or somewhere high up. Two years later she gave birth to another girl, this time she thought she was fully prepared! But this girl wasn’t at all like her big sister! She was less high maintenance, but soon my mother realized that this child had another “manual” and had to amend her parenting strategies to fit this child’s needs. By the time the third girl came onto this planet (that would be me!) my mom realized she needed to go with the flow and learn all about the personality of this latest addition. With other words: three girls have been born, within the same environment – yet their behaviour from a young age was very different!
The influence of “nature” (genetic inheritance) and “nurture” (environment) has been researched since the 1700’s. Despite the fact we still cannot answer how much percentage of which is responsible for the observed differences in behaviours (in both animals and humans), we can conclude that both have a big impact.
Dog owners however often still have this misconception; a dog would be a clean slate and if you raise it “right” you can make it into the perfect companion. Yes, there are many factors that can influence your dog’s behaviour, and early experiences have a large impact on your dogs development. But if you give all responsibility to “nurture” you miss out on a big piece that forms your dog – he or she IS born with an unique set of qualities, from day 1 he or she is his own “persona”.
We can, and should, do our research when we decide to take on a dog. Do you want a puppy or an older dog? Working dog or family dog? A breed can give some indication on expected personality traits: a border collie has a higher chance to be considered “nervous” then a Komondor, as the border collie was bred to respond to movement where a Komondor (protector of sheep) was bred to only respond in times of actual danger. This however doesn’t mean you can’t have a Komondor that is considered nervous; that is easily triggered by movement. He wouldn’t be very suitable for his job, but nowadays could well be used for further breeding if he has the right looks and basic health.
Why is this important to realize? In our current society there seems to be an emphasis on the nurture part of our dogs: dog owners like to give (unsolicited) advice to each other about dog “parenting” as they often believe unwanted behaviour comes from a lack of discipline. Let me tell you this; so far I have encountered ZERO issues that follow from a lack of discipline, and many issues because owners start “disciplining” their dog as they do not know what else to do or are just frustrated. So instead of listening to other dog owners critics, accept that some behaviour follows the personality of your dog. For example, not all dogs are outgoing – your dog might just not enjoy the intrusive greeting of the Labrador that just sprinted 100 meters to come and say “hi”. If your dog responds with a growl that is perfectly fine, he is just letting the other dog know that his behaviour is not appreciated.
Hence it is very important to get to know your dog well. Accepting the personality of your dog doesn’t mean that you can become passive about it. On the contrary, if you know your dog well you can make a big impact on the quality of his life by managing things for him. For example, if you have a dog that has a tendency to be triggered by running children, you do not bring this dog to the school grounds. When you get visitation with children, you make sure to protect your dog (and kids) by having him in a safe space – behind a baby gate for example or perhaps even in another room. The solutions you think of to help your dog cope in situations are highly specific. Because, again, your dog is unique! Where some dogs would be happy to be in another room when there is visitation, others would get crazy feeling left out and alone. Just like my mom raising her three daughters: you as a parent need to figure out what works for your dog(s).
At times it can be difficult to accept some personality traits you'd rather not see in your dog. You can even feel embarrassed about it or ashamed. Make it your objective to learn to accept your dog as he is. Try to even see the "fun" side of getting to know his quirks and imperfections. Not only will this give you a piece of mind, it will also take pressure of your dog. If certain behaviour becomes a real problem, seek help. But first ask yourself the question: is this behaviour really a problem? No dog is perfect, and we shouldn't want them to be.