In dogs, temperament refers to “individual differences in behaviour that are biologically based.”1 Breed-specific temperaments are traits that are unique to each breed because they vary and are distinctive from other breeds. Common breed temperaments can be found in each breed’s breed standard. Temperament can also vary between individuals of the same breed in which individuals displays different personalities similar to how people who are members of the same family have their own distinct personalities2.
Breed temperaments are innate and predisposed ways a certain breed tends to respond to a range of stimuli.
Personality types in dogs
Personality in dogs is typically assessed using a variation of The Big Five personality assessment for humans. Research has identified similar personality dimensions in dogs3. These include:
- Extraversion – refers to how energetic and outgoing a dog is
- Motivation – refers to how self-assured a dog is
- Training Focus – how responsive a dog is during training
- Amicability – how friendly and sociable a dog is
- Neuroticism – reflects nervous sensitivity in a dog
Individuals of the same breed tend to share similar personality traits, but not always.
Dog breeds and their usual temperament and personality traits
Let’s look at some common dog breeds and their typical personality traits…
Labradors and Golden Retrievers
These two breeds are closely related and share many personality traits in common. Labradors and Golden Retrievers are typically described as having warm, friendly and outgoing temperaments. They are also known to be wonderful with children, affectionate with their family, great with other dogs and highly trainable.
As their name suggests, most have an innate desire to carry objects in their mouths. These dogs generally score highly on extraversion, motivation, training focus and amicability and low for neuroticism.
Border Collies are known to be very affectionate with their family and generally good with children and other dogs. However they can also be prone to barking excessively and have high needs for mental stimulation and exercise.
Border Collies are very intelligent, playful adaptable and highly trainable. Border Collies score highly on the personality dimensions of motivation, training focus and can also be more neurotic than other breeds.
Known to be quite aloof with strangers, German Shepherds are very affectionate and loyal to their family. They also appear confident and brave. German Shepherds are generally good with other dogs when socialised well. As with other working dog breeds German Shepherd have an increased need for exercise and mental stimulation to avoid problem behaviours developing due to boredom.
These dogs score highly for motivation, amicability and training focus but can also be prone to neuroticism.
Jack Russell Terrier
If there's a dog breed that tops the charts for energy levels, it could well be the Jack Russell Terrier. These dogs are bright, clever, athletic and always aware of everything that's going on in their environment. Jack Russell Terriers are vibrant, play loving and social with other dogs - as long as they have been properly socialised.
Generally they are known to be amicable, extraverted and exhibit highly trainable making them very well suited to dog sports and obedience training.
What about temperament in cross or mixed breeds?
Assessing temperament in crossbreed or mixed breed dogs can be challenging because sometimes the dog’s ancestry is unknown and cannot be used to provide clues. In this case, the best way to determine temperament is to observe the dog’s behaviour in a variety of everyday situations such as meeting new people, meeting new dogs, going for a walk, going to the vet etc. Think about the five personality dimensions mentioned above and where the dog falls on each continuum.
Animal shelters and rescue organisations assess temperament and behaviour in a similar way to assess adoption suitability in dogs prior to rehoming them. These assessments typically place dogs in different everyday situations (e.g. meeting a stranger, meeting an unfamiliar dog, encountering a novel object etc) to determine how the dog responds and whether further training or socialisation is needed.
We all vary in terms of our underlying temperament and personality traits and so do our dogs.
Understanding and responding to our dog’s individual temperament and personality can help us bond with them on a deeper level and care for them more effectively.
3. Ley, J., Bennett, P., & Coleman, G. (2008). Personality dimensions that emerge in companion canines. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 110(3-4), 305-317.