Genetics vs. Environment

Social behaviour is comprised of both genetics and environment. Let’s dig into that for a second:

A puppy whose parents/grandparents/great-grandparents were fearful, reactive, aggressive, asocial etc., has a very high chance of being fearful, reactive, aggressive, asocial etc., too. We know that even specific fears can be passed down (fear of strangers, fear of dogs, etc) – check out this article about how even fear of a smell can be passed down several generations. Now, if that doesn’t get you thinking about questions to ask the breeder, I don’t know what will. Trauma can be inherited and it’s for that reason we need to be incredibly proactive about socialisation.

Now let’s talk about environment. This doesn’t just mean urban vs suburban vs rural; I’m talking all the environmental factors that affect behaviour. Here’s a scenario:

A perfectly bred (does that exist?) dog is raised by a top-of-the-line Veterinary Behaviourist who brings the puppy, we’ll call him “Fido”, to a perfectly-run early puppy socialisation classes and does everything by the book. The puppy grows up and exhibits wonderfully social behaviour for years. At the age of 4, Fido is attacked by a chocolate brown Labrador and requires an overnight stay in the veterinary clinic with a number of stitches, a course of antibiotics, and pain medicine for a few days. Two weeks later, on a regular walk, the dog sees a German Shorthaired Pointer (a lean brown dog if you’re not familiar) across the street and starts barking and lunging furiously as if to warn the dog “get away from me!! I’ll get you before you get me!!” This continues every time Fido sees a brown dog, and quickly spreads to all medium and large dogs.

That’s environment. What else is environment is training methods, positive experiences and associations, basic functional needs, sleep, exercise, diet and health, and more. All of these can affect behaviour just like they do with humans.

We don’t want to be reactive in our mission to have a behaviourally sound dog – we want to be preventive, even if they’ve had the top-of-the line breeding and excellent puppyhood.