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  • Courteous K9

Is Your Dog's Past Important?

Updated: Apr 6


There are many reasons our dog's behave the way they do. On one hand, a dog's breed and genetic makeup can play a significant role in determining certain behavioral traits. The whole purpose for purebred dogs was to create certain breed-specific tendencies and genetic predispositions. They have had thoughtful selection of certain traits when breeding each generation. This is why certain breeds are going to be more successful at hunting, herding, guarding livestock, etc. It is really important to do your research before getting a dog and to think about what traits you want in a dog. What is your tolerance for possible reactivity? Dog Aggression? People Aggression? Over-excitability/Hyperactivity? Are you able to physically handle a strong powerful dog (but don't underestimate the intensity and tenacity of smaller dogs like corgis and terriers)? What do you want to do with your dog? For instance, there are breeds that will be better suited to be a safe family dog or therapy dog.

Black dog smiling or the camera

Your dogs ancestry, especially if a purebred dog, will often explain many traits that are more ingrained in those dogs. This will often explain why herding breeds like to chase and try to stop things in motion, why hunting dogs are orally fixated, why livestock guardian dogs are protective of their property, etc.


There is nature AND nurture when shaping a dog's behavior. However, ultimately, genetics dictate the extent of how little or how much a behavior could be displayed, but how they are raised will determine where they fall on that scale for each behavior.

The environment in which a dog is raised can also explain things about their behavior. There are a variety of instances in which we see more behavioral issues arise such as: being taken away from mom too young, lack of proper socialization in the first 4 months of a puppies life, too much time being unsupervised allowing certain problematic behaviors to be practiced, etc.


Ultimately, we cannot change a dog's genetic makeup, but we can change how we are raising and interacting with them to achieve the dog's fullest potential and reduce behaviors we dislike while increasing behaviors we do like.

Although the dogs past is interesting and can explain why they are acting the way they do, it generally is not going to change our training plan. Instead, we will look at what the dog is displaying at that moment to determine a course of action and continually assess how they are doing throughout the training process making modifications based on what they are displaying in the moment. We think it can potentially cause more harm than good if we sit and dwell on our dog's past. While it is important to consider it when we are first starting to train a dog, it is equally important not to keep it at the forefront of our training process so we do not inhibit our dogs progress. Dogs live in the moment, we should too.

Adopted Dogs:

One of our biggest pet peeves is people who assume their dog was abused because they don't like men or young children, they are scared of a broomstick/umbrella, etc. There are MANY dogs who have come from great breeders and were picked up around 8 weeks of age whom have never been abused that often display these same responses.

Another pet peeve for us is those who have dogs that came from a puppy mill or were neglected and isolated to a crate/kennel. These people often do not want to use a kennel at all due to that dogs past. However, the reality is that many of those dogs view their kennel or crate as their one place of familiarity or normalcy. Because of this, they often view their crate/kennel as a place of safety and comfort.

Even if dogs have had a bad past, the worst thing you can do for them is to treat them differently because of it. Stop dwelling on the past and train the dog in front of you based on what they are showing in that moment. Like we said before, dogs live in the moment. Give them the opportunity to move beyond what may have happened before. Train the dog in front of you based on what they are showing they are capable of in that moment.

Your Role:

The way in which you interact with a dog can influence them either positively or negatively. Sometimes people have good intentions, but are actually increasing unwanted behaviors or limiting the dog's progress. For instance, dogs who generally are the most nervous or take longer to get over things are usually with owners who have a big reaction as soon as their dog is showing stress or being nervous, frantically petting the dog repetitively and telling them it is 'okay' generally does not help the dog calm down, but rather has the dog thinking we are both stressed now, therefor this situation is definitely something to be stressed about! Instead, if you had a more neutral response and were proactive in setting a dog up for success by being mindful of the environment and the situations you are putting that dog in, it can greatly help them with their confidence as they have many small successes of overcoming their fears.

While the past may indicate how ingrained unwanted behaviors may be, you will see vast improvement if you immediately start implementing more structure and management where they are unable to practice unwanted behaviors, and start teaching new behaviors of what you want them to do or how you want them to react.

If you are struggling with certain behaviors, contact us and we would love to go over what we think the best course of action would be for you and your dog!

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