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It’s no secret that, like us, every dog has a different personality. Dog personalities are not so different from humans – you’ve got your jerks, your nice guys, your playful types, your mellow types, and pretty much every other personality.

Just like any new roommate, it’s important that your new pet fits your lifestyle, and personality is a vital part of that. Fortunately, it’s far easier determining the personality of a canine roommate than a human one. Most dogs of a breed share particular personality traits, and you can use that to narrow down the field (don’t try that for humans, it’s usually frowned upon). Mixed breed dogs are a little harder to pin down, but knowing their background can still give you some pointers. Typically, their “mixed” personalities are going to be less extreme than their pure- blooded ancestors.

There many, many different breeds of terrier, each with a slightly different personality. The thing to remember about all terriers is that they were originally bred to kill small animals like rats and foxes. This is worth keeping in mind if you expect it to tolerate small animals like, say, your nephew. Terriers are typically athletic and enthusiastic; if you want to be greeted by a wall-jumping, flying triple-Salchow every time you come home, then this is your dog. Be aware that these guys need attention and exercise, or you’ll have a serious case of “little-man syndrome,” on your hands – mal-adjusted terriers can be incessant barkers and destructive house-guests.

Retrievers are often portrayed as the classic family dog. It seems a little strange then, that the breed came about because of guns. As gun technology got better, hunters loved making those long-distance shots, but hated trudging all the way to the fowl they just downed. So they bred dogs to do it. As most owners can attest to, this doesn’t mean retrievers want to nibble on your Smith & Wesson, but it means the breed is intensely loyal, trainable, and has a “soft mouth” –  meaning they are very gentle about holding things in their mouths. This means good things for anything you don’t want chewed, whether that’s a freshly downed pheasant or, more likely, an especially pokey four-year-old. Naturally, they’ll play fetch all day long.

Mastiff Breeds are a similar contradiction. This largest of all dog types is descended from a long history of dogs bred for war, yet they typically are big, gentle, lovable oafs. Their massive heads and folds of skin always seem to display a panting smile that perfectly matches their mellow demeanor. That said, mastiffs are one of the many dog breeds with a strong guarding instinct; attacks are rare, but you may have to let big boy know that people are “invited” to stop his low growl. For all their size and fearsome legacy, they don’t really need harsh training and discipline – and most fit in nicely with children and smaller dogs.

It turns out the Pit Bull, and its various mixes, are a little controversial. Talk to the average owner and you’ll get a great spiel about this “misunderstood” breed. Talk to someone in animal control, and you’ll get a horrified look. This might be because Pit Bulls are responsible for well over half of the dog attacks suffered by humans. They bite and kill around four to five times as many people as the runner-up Rottweiler. The thing to remember about these dogs is that they were bred to fight other dogs. While some people try to blame their actions on bad owners, stories abound of loving, pampered Bulls attacking their life-long owners, children, and visitors without provocation. Unless you’re fond of hospitals and lawsuits, steer clear of this one.

Thankfully, not all dogs were bred to kill, fight, or retrieve dead animals; plenty were bred to guard or herd livestock. Guarding-type dogs, such as the German Shepherd, will protect family members as well as any actual sheep. They tend to be larger and gentle to family members, but like the mastiff, they are wary of strangers. Herding-types, such as the Border Collie, have an extra quirk – untrained, they tend to try to herd people, especially children. If you adopt a herding type, you’ll have to make sure you’re the “pack leader”, or suffer the circling and heel-nipping tendencies like any other sheep.

For more information about these breeds,
and so many others, check out / Issue 150 - September 2411
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