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How Genetics and Environment Affect Your Dog’s Training and Behaviour Modification

By Jason Wright

December 23, 2023

Are you finding it difficult to train your dog, even with a consistent approach? We’ve worked with many pet owners who find that despite their constant efforts, they still aren’t achieving the desired results from working with their pets. 

The reason behind this may sometimes lie in the genetic makeup of each individual dog. Believe it or not, your dog’s genetics affect much more than their appearance. It also can strongly influence their behaviour, making your dog more aggressive or assertive. Genetics can also cause your dog to become more anxious, nervous, or fearful of other people or dogs, which comes with its own set of challenges.

Though it can be challenging to deal with a dog who is genetically “programmed” to be more aggressive, nervous, or anxious, there are training tactics and techniques that can help. In this blog, we'll touch on how genetics can significantly influence behaviour modification, shedding light on why your pup may be responding—or not responding—as expected and what you can do about it regarding their training.

The Role of Genetics in Canine Temperament

As mentioned, genetics isn't just the blueprint for your dog's appearance; it can be a key player in determining their temperament. From the spirited energy of a Border Collie to the laid-back vibes of a Basset Hound, a dog's genetic makeup shapes their predisposition to certain behaviours. 

Understanding this genetic influence can pave the way for more tailored and effective training approaches, helping your pet learn simple commands or proper behaviour.

  • Inherited Traits: Much like humans inherit certain traits from their parents, dogs receive a behavioural toolkit from their lineage. This can include tendencies toward aggression, fearfulness, or sociability. 
  • Breed-Specific Characteristics: Different breeds come with their unique set of characteristics. While some breeds are natural guardians, others may be more prone to wanderlust. Recognizing these breed-specific traits helps you tailor your training methods to align with your dog's inherent tendencies.
  • Health Factors: Genetic factors also play a role in your dog's overall health, influencing their energy levels, sensitivity to stimuli, and susceptibility to certain illnesses. These health considerations are integral to crafting a training regimen that respects your dog's physical and emotional well-being.

The Environmental Impact on Canine Training

In addition to genetics playing a huge role in your pet's makeup, behaviour, and training progress, the environment in which you work with your dog can also have a significant impact. Understanding your dog’s temperament can help you determine which environment your dog is best suited to be trained. For example, if your dog is easily triggered or affected by loud noises, starting your pet in a quieter area, such as your home, before working with them at a city park is best. 

Here are a few of the ways in which the surrounding environment can affect your pet:

  • Urban vs. Suburban Dynamics: The hustle and bustle of city life can expose your dog to many stimuli, from noisy traffic to crowded sidewalks. In suburban settings, it may be quieter; however, you can come across many other challenges, such as facing owners walking their dogs on longer leashes or your pet dealing with issues such as boredom. Adapting your training to these distinct environments is crucial for success. 
  • A recommended approach that our trained professionals use is to first see how one’s dog responds in both environments to understand if loud noises or other dogs affect them. Then, it’s important that you begin working with your pet in the environment that triggers or affects them the least so that they can learn basic commands before gradually moving into the environment that has more stimuli.
  • Socialization Opportunities: It’s important to remember that you must socialize your dog in a controlled environment. If you live in the city, you’ll recognize that many dog parks are available. These are not controlled environments, and many unforeseeable accidents can occur. Instead, be sure to slowly socialize your pet with other dogs, where you can monitor and watch their behaviour and the behaviour of those around them. 
  • Weather Variability: The Greater Toronto Area experiences a range of weather conditions, and your dog's response to rain, snow, or heat can impact training sessions. Recognizing these factors allows you to create a comfortable and effective training environment.

Training Strategies to Navigate Genetics and Environment

Now that we've explored the influence of genetics and the environment let's shift our focus to proactive training strategies. These methods empower you to work with, rather than against, your dog's genetic makeup and environmental challenges.

Here are a few of the training techniques that can help you work with your pet, allowing them to achieve proper behaviour:

  • 1. Individualized Approaches: Tailor your training methods to suit your dog's breed, temperament, and unique characteristics. What works for one pup may not work for another, emphasizing the importance of individualized training plans.
  • While this will take some additional work, we recommend reading up or learning more about your dog’s specific breed to understand them and their temperament better. It’s best to know what you’re working with and if there are any foreseeable issues that you may encounter when working with your dog.
  • If you are struggling to work with and train your pet or are unsure of the individualized approach that should be used, we recommend seeking advice from a trained professional. This will allow you to create a consistent and effective training approach that leads to your desired results. 
  • 2. Gradual Exposure: In dealing with genetic predispositions or environmental sensitivities, gradual exposure is key. Introduce stimuli or challenges in a controlled manner, allowing your dog to build confidence and adapt at their own pace. 
  • Remember, training is not an act that is done once or twice and then forgotten about. This is a practice that needs to be completed on a consistent and regular basis, helping your dog achieve proper behaviour and understand commands in all environments. Once your dog has shown that they can be trained or follow through with appropriate behaviour in one setting, it’s best to continue their training in other environments as well.
  • 3. Operant Conditioning: Operant conditioning and balanced dog training are the methodologies that we utilize at iTK9. Both methods incorporate a mix of rewards and consequences in your dog’s training to help reinforce a happy and obedient lifestyle for your dog. 
  • With balanced dog training, the focus is simple: show your dog that certain behaviours can have positive or negative reactions. When a command is completed or a trick is performed, praise can be given to encourage your pet. However, if poor behaviour occurs, initiating a balance of corrections or consequences is necessary so your dog can understand that these actions are unacceptable. 

The iTK9 Way

By understanding the influences of your dog’s genetics and environment and implementing thoughtful training strategies, you can elevate your training sessions and achieve behaviour modification beyond the surface. 

Remember, successful training is not just about teaching commands; it's about understanding the unique code of your dog's genetics and environment to foster a well-rounded and harmonious partnership. If you're struggling to work with your pet or unsure where to start, our trained professionals can help. They fully commit to working with them safely and effectively through behaviour, obedience training, and continued learning.

We do the hard work for you to attain a happy home and a healthy relationship with your pet.

Included in all of our programs are the following;

  1. In-Person Learning: Midway progress training video, two go-home lessons.
  2. Online Learning: Owner education course, instructional training videos, iTK9 member community, e-books & additional training resources.
  3. Owner Support: Photo updates of your dog training with our team and access to our team for questions & support.

Contact us today for more information on our programs, including Board & Train.

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