Home / The Best Friends Blog / Nature vs. Nurture: The Fallout of Blaming Behavior on Dogs' Pasts
Nature vs. Nurture: The Fallout of Blaming Behavior on Dogs' Pasts

Nature vs. Nurture: The Fallout of Blaming Behavior on Dogs' Pasts

Many people believe that how a dog behaves comes down to how they're raised. The debate about nature vs. nurture has been going on in modern psychology for decades.

One side claims that, based on breeding, an animal behaves a certain way. The other side contends that it's based on how the owner handles the animal that impacts behavior. Several people have used the statement, "it's how they were raised," to justify their dangerous dogs biting someone.

But which one is the dominant side here? Is there any evidence to support either position? What consequences do the "It's how they were raised" argument have for dogs? Here, we examine how using a dog's past to justify their behavior affects more than just the individual dog in question.

Learned and Instinctual Behaviors

In the wild, animals usually defer to either learned or instinctual behaviors. For example, a puppy will immediately know how to nurse after it's born. It does this by instinct. However, most other things, typically behavior with humans and other dogs, need to be learned. Since interaction with others isn't instinctual behavior, how a dog was raised does play a part in the equation to determine their behavioral nuances. That's why many bring up the argument about dogs being "raised wrong."

The Impact of Words

Being "raised wrong" is a common complaint about some dogs. The traumatic past these dogs have had to endure makes them even more likely to need a human being for emotional support. However, the terminology used tends to scare owners off.

Older dogs already have a hard time getting adopted. Those that are "raised wrong" tend to be avoided since owners don't want to deal with an old dog with a bad attitude. Shelters also contribute to this mentality by refusing to put dogs up for adoption that come from abusive backgrounds. Shelters believe that if the dog wasn't raised properly, they may prove to be more than the owner could handle.

For owners who have spent the time raising their own dogs from puppyhood, their dogs' behavior could make them feel like failures. The truth is that a dog's behavior is due to their past. But only a part of their personality stems from there. The larger and more prominent part of their behavior comes from the present-day handling they get from their owners. You can help a dog to leave their abusive past behind if you know how.

The Counter Position - Dogs "Raised Right"

Many owners purchase dogs from kennels or breeders that spend a lot of time checking their dogs' genetic lines. Yet even with this in-depth background check, owners still report enduing up with misbehaving dogs. The suggestion, then, would be that the background isn't the sole contributor to how the dog behaves.

Even though these dogs were "raised right" and brought up with the proper training and socialization from an early age, they still display behavioral anomalies. Some of these can be dealt with by owners. A dog suffering from anxiety, for example, would be able to manage with a deep-dish cuddler bed. The fear may stem from several factors, ranging from high-strung puppyhood to something that bothers them in their immediate environment.

Focusing on the Present, Not the Past

There's no way we can change the past. The mentality that "how they were raised" is the only way that dogs' behavior gets instilled is not helpful. It gives owners a fallback position for poorly behaved dogs but doesn't help them realize that they can make a difference to their dogs' behaviors.

If your goal is to ensure that your furry friend is raised well and behaves correctly, you owe it to them to spend time training them. Focus on your present behavior to guide theirs.

We shouldn't write off the past completely, however. When training a dog, you will need to be aware of the cues and hints that your dog gives you. In the heat of training, you might notice bad behavior coming out. Looking at the past, you may be able to figure out what triggered this outburst and how to manage it in the future.

Dogs are individuals, even though they're our partners in much that we do. We have to do right by them by helping them get over these triggers. Behavior can be adjusted using the right training as well. There's no reason a dog that was "raised wrong" should be stuck in the rut of bad behavior.

Managing Your Dog

The crucial point is to remember behavioral training needs to be matched by proper dog management. Management tools come in many shapes and sizes.

For dogs with emotional problems, things like crates and beds help them deal with and slowly overcome their issues. For those with aggression issues, leashes and muzzles can be useful. Dogs that deal poorly with property restrictions may need higher fences and gates. However, as valuable as these tools are, they're only as good as how you use them. Overuse may exacerbate the problem and lead your dog to resent you. If you're having trouble coming up with ideas, you could consult your vet or an animal behavioral expert for some hints.

The other side of the coin is also true. If you have a dog that is bred to be genetically superior, you may still find them escaping your yard and roaming the neighborhood. Breeding is no guarantee of good behavior, no matter what the breeder tells you.

In these cases, managing your fur baby will be for everyone's benefit. A dog roaming the neighborhood might lash out unexpectedly at someone or run afoul of a speeding car. No one should have to lose their dog because of this sort of behavior.

Being a Responsible Dog Owner

The onus is on you, as the owner, to train your dog properly. Many owners have let their dogs' bad behavior slide because they see it as a consequence of their past, but this mindset should change.

Dogs with sinister pasts aren't beyond all redemption. It may take a bit longer to get to these dogs and help them become better-behaved pups. Using tools responsibly to guide them towards better behavior should be your goal.

Dogs are close friends, after all. There's no question that if the situation were reversed, they'd be there to help us in the same way.


Leave a comment