I often get asked the question, “What are the best behaved dog breeds?”
And here’s my answer…
The idea that a breed can determine a dog’s personality is one of the biggest dog myths in the world. There’s simply not such thing as a “best behaved dog breed.”
For example, people assume that if you own a Pit Bull, he’s definitely going to be tough and aggressive, and if you own a Chihuahua, she’s going to be a yappy princess.
But, the truth is, I’ve met many Pit Bulls who want nothing more than to cuddle with you on the couch, while I’ve also encountered several Chihuahuas who bark, growl and bite every time you go near them.
The bottom line is that a dog’s breed is NOT the most important thing in determining the personality traits or how that dog will behave in the big wide world.
So what factors influence your dog’s behaviour the most?
Today, I’m going to give you my best answer as to what I believe are the 8 most common dog personality traits, along with information on how to determine if that trait is a good match for you as a dog owner or not.
Please keep in mind that I’m picking these traits based on gut instinct and from what I know based on years of working with thousands of different types of dogs.
I also want to point out that none of these character traits are necessarily good or bad.
Yes, sometimes there is a trait, which will make it slightly easier to train a dog, such as having a dog who’s very food motivated versus having a dog who’s not interested in food or treats at all.
However, it’s also easy for a dog to have what may seem like a positive trait–being food motivated–that turns into a not so desirable trait if it goes too far. For example, a dog who will not stop hunting for food or who nips your fingers when you’re trying to give him a treat.
Typically, it’s best to have a dog whose traits fall within the middle ground.
However, there are always exceptions.
A dog with a high prey drive is generally not what people want. You’re probably not looking for a German Shepherd who’s trying to dart out the front door and chase cats down the road. However, sometimes prey drive is desirable. If you’re someone who lives on a farm who’s got a barn and it’s full of rats and mice, a high prey drive is desirable. If you get a Jack Russell who’s got a huge high prey drive and catches the rats like a pro, that’s perfect.
So, as you can see, there are good things and bad things about every trait a dog may have. I think you’ve got the point, so, without further ado, let’s jump into the different types of personality traits.
1. Tough Vs. Soft Dog Personality Traits
The first personality and character trait is what I call “Tough or Soft.” It’s a very simple trait.
How do you know which one your dog is? Easy…
If you shout at your dog or tell your dog off and he immediately cowers back and never does what he got yelled at before again, he’s probably soft.
And, if you shout at your dog or tap him on the nose and he isn’t bothered by it, or even likes it, he’s probably tough.
Note: I don’t ever advise that you yell at your dog, I prefer taking a kinder approach.
Think about it in terms of children.
Some children are very easy to push back into line. You just have to raise your voice a bit, and they don’t want to do anything wrong. Other kids are stubborn and are far more strong-minded. They’ll put up more of a physical fight with you.
This is a very important way to look at it.
If you have a very soft dog, he can be very easy for you to bully.
Again, I certainly don’t like the approach of using force to bully a dog into submission. I’m far more about trying to understand why the dog is doing what he’s doing and how we can help him.
On the other hand, you can’t really bully tough dogs because they push back so hard. So you really have to work a little bit harder and understand them better, how to motivate them, which I think is a great thing.
Being soft or tough also often determines the types of things a dog will enjoy doing.
A soft dog might be a little prince or princess who enjoys sitting on the velvet cushion in the sunshine, watching the world go by. A tougher dog who likes things a bit more rough and tumble may be happier running around a farm.
2. High Vs. Low Energy Dog Personality Traits
Another very important character or trait is how much energy your dog has.
Having the same energy level of your dog is very important.
If you have a dog who needs two hours of exercise per day and you really only like to go maybe twice a week for a little walk, it’s going to be a struggle.
One of the biggest issues I had when I got my little dog Inka was that she was energized and alert 24/7, 365 days a year, and was always in your face.
She would stand there looking at me just waiting, wanting something… usually pets, cuddles and affection.
I’d take her for a walk; she wouldn’t switch off. She’d wander around the house, stand there and look at me.
Now, there are ways to work with these sorts of dogs, which I share in my program, The Dog Calming Code. If you have a 24/7 dog, I urge you to go check it out!
For little Inka, I had to find a way of draining her energy. One thing that helps for her is throwing the chucker ball for half an hour.
It’s the same with kids.
Some kids love to play all day, and they’re still not exhausted while other kids get tired very quickly and need daily naps.
As I mentioned earlier, with all these issues, it’s not so much that it’s good or bad. You just need to find ways to taper your dog’s energy one way or the other.
3. Food Vs Not Food Motivated Dog Personality Traits
The next trait is food motivated dogs vs those dogs that are not interested in treats.
There’s no doubt that dogs that are food motivated are easier to train.
Just think about it… you just use a recall and reward the dog with food when he comes to you. You can use that food so easily to train him.
Again, you can relate this back to kids. For some kids, you can use bribery, a little bit of chocolate to get them to do exactly what you want, like doing their homework.
For kids that don’t care about special treats, you have to be a bit smarter.
In terms of dogs, this might mean rewarding your dog with a special toy, head scratches, or a real special treat, like steak or cheese.
4. Prey Vs Non-Prey Drive Dog Personality Traits
Personality trait number 4 is prey drive.
Some dogs have a huge prey drive. It’s just built-in.
Generally speaking, most people don’t want a high prey drive in their dogs, whether they’re trying to chase cows or cats or anything that moves.
Although some people, like those who live on a farm, might want a dog with high prey drive instincts for specific purposes, such as getting rid of small rodents in a barn.
If you don’t want to worry about your dog pulling you on a leash or running out the door to chase anything that moves, seek out a dog that has a naturally low prey drive.
5. Confident Vs Fearful Dog Personality Traits
Okay, this personality trait is all about confidence.
If you have a dog who is confident and fearless, he’ll be happy to approach new situations. For example, the other day I was in the garage chopping firewood, and my dog Jack comes right up to me as I’m smashing pieces of wood. He doesn’t care.
Then I’m on the ride-on mower, and he’s outside. He’s lying there and the ride-on mower is passing him within about 2 meters, and he doesn’t move.
He lies there and he’s very happy with any strange thing that happens. He’s just curious whether it’s a person turning up who he’s never met before. He’s not scared. He doesn’t have a fearful bone in his body and that does make it easier in many ways.
He’s not going to be a jumpy dog who’s jumping and barking and scared and nervous of things. He’s far less likely to become a fear biter.
On the flip side, you have to manage dogs who are fearful more carefully.
You really have to become what I call the guiding force in their life, the decision maker, or as some people call it the ‘pack leader’.
It’s all about letting a fearful dog know, ‘Hey, I’m in charge. I’m the one that makes the decisions around here.’ That’s how you can really help those fearful dogs.
6. Dominant Vs Submissive Dog Personality Traits
Number 6 is dominant vs submissive.
My dog Jack is by nature the most dominant dog I’ve ever met.
He’s just a born leader. When I watched him as a puppy, I said, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen a puppy so confident with big dogs in all my life.’
He was walking up to my dogs and jumping around like he knew the rules. He knew what the game was, and he said, ‘I can do this.’
The dominant dogs, in some ways, are easier. However, you need to be able to kind of cap them and make sure they don’t start thinking they run the whole house, because then it can go the other way as they start saying, ‘I’ll make the decisions’ or ‘I’m the protector of the home.’
You have to understand how to keep dominant dogs from becoming too dominant, thinking they’re the absolute king of the castle.
You want them to be your wingman or your wing lady– somebody who still listens to you and looks up to you. Jack is exactly that. He absolutely loves me, which is wonderful.
Submissive dogs, on the other hand, can be very easy.
If you know what you’re doing, they’re not so challenging. They’re happy to be submissive to you and to other dogs. They’re happy to clock into the pack, and they’re not always trying to lead.
The thing is, a lot of this is about survival. Sometimes, submissive dogs just find it easier. It’s easier for them to survive, to get through in life.
I often watch that program Survivor, where you can see the person who’s beating their chest and sticking their head out to speak out the whole time, making themselves a target saying, ‘I’m in charge, I’m running the show.’
They’re far more likely to get picked off and get challenged and get taken down. Whereas, people who hang back and don’t shout so much or make so much noise often come through at the end.
The other movie I watched on Netflix is called Vikings. Back in the day, it seems like as soon as you became king or queen, you were a marked man or woman. Everyone was trying to gun for you and take you down, and that’s what happens. The person who’s at the top gets taken down.
Survival is often about not sticking your head up too high, and that’s how it is in the dog world as well. Dogs instinctively know this and that’s why they are happy just being down at the bottom of the hierarchy–it’s easier for them!
7. Desire to Please Vs No Desire to Please Dog Personality Traits
Trait number 7 is desire to please–a trait that actually has more to do with humans.
I personally think it’s easier if you have a dog who’s easy to please or happy to please, because then you can use your pats and cuddles and affection as a valuable reward.
My little dog called Inker is a very nervous dog, very fearful.
She also has very high energy, which often made it hard to work with her because she always wants to go, go, go, and do more. She is jumpy.
However, what worked well was she was so keen to please. She’d do anything to make me happy, and it is adorable. Pats and cuddles are all she wants, lots of love.
But, if you have a dog who’s aloof and isn’t easy to please, he probably doesn’t really care for your pats and cuddles. This means you really have to establish yourself as somebody that he truly respects and will listen to.
8. Social Vs Nonsocial Dog Personality Traits
Number 8 is all about sociability with other dogs.
We’ve talked about whether dogs are aloof with humans, but this has to do with other dogs.
Think about this…
Does your dog love to play with other dogs? Is he relaxed and confident around other dogs?
Some dogs just love to play and are socialites, and this is great! It makes it much easier to take your dog out to the park because he is happy to interact with other dogs.
The down side…there is such a thing as a dog who likes to socialize or play too much. A dog who is too social might see another dog on the other side of the street and begin barking and pulling on the leash. The dog may also feed the need to sniff every dog and jump in their face, which can easily get them into trouble.
Sometimes it’s just as easy to have a dog who really isn’t that bothered with other dogs, and you can just go for a lovely, relaxing walk. It’s always good that they tolerate dogs, but too keen can be too much.
Which Dog Personality Traits Are Best?
To finish off, I want to remind you that it’s important to celebrate diversity.
Just like people, dogs are all different. There’s not one right or best way to be, It’s diversity and differences, that make both humans and dogs fascinating and interesting.
A lot of these traits also have to do with genetics, breeding, bloodlines and DNA. These things happen at birth.
Little Inker-Tinker was a nervous, fearful, high energy dog. It wasn’t something that we trained into her. It was more to do with nature than nurture. However, the nurture is the bit that we can affect, and now she’s a totally different dog–very confident, relaxed and absolutely adorable.
Once again you can see the similarity with children. Some children are sociable, some children try to please and some children are more confident, which for me just goes to show how similar we really are as animals. We have all these feelings and emotions and personality traits. Dog’s are not that different from humans when you really understand them.
A final note to finish on…
Notice that the breed of the dog doesn’t really have a big effect on personality traits. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got a pedigree or a mutt. The personality and character varies within every breed and plays a very small part in how a dog behaves.
There are Collie dogs that don’t have high energy. Some do. In fact, a lot of them do…but some of them don’t. And yes, there are some aggressive Pit Bulls, but the majority are really lovely dogs who simply like to cuddle. It varies.
My other point I want to make is about how to determine character traits.
Traits become more apparent as dogs age, so it’s far easier to spot these character traits later on in life.
So, if you’re thinking of getting a puppy, it’s much harder to spot what the personality and character of your dog is going to be at 8 weeks of age. It’s far easier, for a two-year-old dog.
So, that is the advantage of maybe having a look at a dog who’s older.
But like I said, with a little training, any character trait can be molded and formed. If you have a dog that you’re struggling with, I suggest you check my program, The Dog Calming Code, for some help!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. It’s been a lot of fun for me just thinking about dog behaviour traits. Have a great day and as always, love your dog.
P.S. Let me know your dog’s breed and any key personality traits below and let’s see what we find out about them 🙂
Also, if you’re curious to know where your dog is in the most popular breeds list, you can download the full ranking list below (190 breeds):
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