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Breeding Dogs for Temperament

Why do breeders continue to breed dogs that are not of sound temperament? The dogs meet the AKC beauty standards, but dogs can be dangerous, and living with an aggressive dog has a huge effect on our lives and the life of the dog. We should be breeding for calm, happy golden retrievers, labs, pit bulls, pomeranians, chihuahuas, etc. Temperament needs to be placed over beauty. Can’t we make a law?

I think that unless a breeder is breeding for sociability and other good temperament traits, then they shouldn’t legally be able to sell their puppies. Not that it would stop the worst of the breeders, but in the main, we’d have better dogs for all families. If we continue to breed for looks instead of personality, we can’t be surprised at the fact that these cute dogs are biting and have too much energy!

In one well-known experiment, Dmitri Belyaev bred foxes for temperament, and in short order, got huge changes in looks (they started looking more like dogs, with floppy ears, as he bred for approachability). Looks and temperament are related, and you can’t breed for one without accidentally changing the other. As we breed for looks, we *are* changing the physical and mental health of the dog.

Anybody got a lawmaker in their pocket? Even a Seattle council member would be good, but I’d love to have a state legislator working on this (Washington or otherwise). Breeders need regulation – we need better laws for breeding dogs for temperament, instead of beauty. Or the American Kennel Club could step up to the plate and stop having “aloof,” “game,” “standoffish,” “feisty,” “protective,” or other such euphemisms to be part of the breed standard. They could stop breeding for ridiculous physical traits and reward breeders for finding two dogs with a lovely temperament and breeding them. Ah, but then the AKC would be cutting into their own profits. Or would they?

I know someone that insists on breeding her dogs. She does almost everything right – she focuses on one breed, she socialize the puppies right away, even does the Super Puppy “early neurological stimulation” protocol when they’re 3-18 days old (click to see a video of Early Neurological Stimulation). She encourages puppy socialization classes. The puppies are raised in the home, and she meticulously finds good homes for her puppies, and keeps in touch with the puppies in their new homes. She’d take them back in an instant. She only breeds her dogs every year or two. In a nutshell, everything after the conception of these puppies looks pretty good.

It’s not just nurture, though. It’s nature! I think she just has no idea that if her little dogs get into knock-down drag-out fights with each other on a daily basis, they might not be good breeding stock. These are not balanced, breedable dogs. They also growl at people and dogs that approach when they’re on the owner’s laps, and guard bones, toys, etc. Somehow, in a little dog, it’s “cute,” and breeders pass this behavior right on down the line.

It’s mitigated by socialization and training, but why can’t we just start with better dog stock in the first place? This same breeder laments that pit bulls should never have been bred to be aggressive (I’ll give you that!), while continuing to breed aggression into her own breed of choice. I think breeders ought to have some kind of license, and each dog that gets bred should have a temperament test before breeding, which shouldn’t start until the dog is 1.5 – 2 years old, so it has its adult temperament.

We could make it a reward-based system, where people who have this card are allowed to charge more, or punitive, where breeders without this card can’t sell their puppies. The market itself may reward such breeders, if the card existed.

Part of the idea for licensing the breeder is to teach them about early socialization and also about what “sound temperament” and “sociability” means. I heard about an obesity program the other day. It was failing miserably, didn’t get much interest, until they educated people about what “obese” meant. They had thought they were just fine, not obese, and that the program didn’t apply to them. After education, these people joined up and lost lots of weight. A similar thing needs to happen with breeders, to help them see, objectively, whether their dogs are of sound temperament.

My breeder friend knows that I don’t think she should be breeding her dogs, but then says the following to me: “some one has to make the puppies for you to train. Think of it as job security!” All puppies need socialization, even the ones with good genes. But even if all dogs had sound temperaments, so sound that they magically didn’t need puppy class, I’d rather have no job at all than have puppies bred to have character flaws, so that I can improve them through socialization. Besides, even Lassie needed training, so I think I’d still have a future as a dog trainer.

I think the answer to the question, “Why don’t breeders select for temperament?” is lack of motivation, lack of knowledge, and perhaps lack of breeding stock. There’s no reason not to breed the two dogs they just happen to have, or maybe they’re breeding the best of their three. They still get money, they may not know their dog isn’t sound, since all German Shepherds they know are fearful, too. It’s time to stop making excuses, and start breeding good dogs!

[You may want to read the HSUS article on choosing a breeder.]