Doberman and terrier

Physical Characteristics of Dogs and Their Psychological Behavior

Author,  Professional Pet Sitting Etc.

There is no other mammal on earth that comes even close to approaching the variations in forms that we find in domestic dogs. The difference in size between a teacup Yorkshire terrier and an adult English mastiff is proportionately larger than the difference between a human and an elephant. So can the dramatic differences in size and shape of dogs affect canine psychology?


Head Shape

A few years ago, a research team from the University of Sydney in Australia was interested in whether behavioral problems in dogs are related to breed differences in height, weight, and – most interestingly – the shape of a dog’s head. There are three basic categories when it comes to head shape in canines: brachiocephalic, or wide-headed with a short snout, like English Bulldogs; dolichocephalic, or narrow-headed with a long snout, like a Greyhound; and mesocephalic, which falls between the other two, with a Labrador Retriever as an example.


Unlike humans, the topography of a dog’s skull is related to differences in our personalities. For example, dogs bred for hunting and chasing typically have narrow heads and long noses. In contrast, many breeds with short snouts and wide skulls tend to act like perpetual puppies.


Undesirable Behaviors

To determine a breed’s proclivity for behavioral problems, the researchers turned to the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire, a massive database developed and maintained by University of Pennsylvania. It is a web-based survey in which owners rate their dogs on nearly three dozen behaviors, most of them problematic. Thousands of dog owners have now participated in this on-going research project.


The researchers from the University of Sydney used the database profiles of 8,301 dogs representing 49 common breeds. The guardian of each animal rated his or her pet on nearly three dozen irritating, disruptive, or destructive behaviors, including aggression, persistent barking, chewing, stealing food, hyperactivity, “mounting,” escaping, and coprophagia (eating poop).


Research Results

The results were remarkable. Various combinations of height, weight, and head shape were significantly related to 90% of the negative behavioral traits. Furthermore, in nearly all cases, the smaller the dog, the more problematic behaviors their pet parents reported. Some examples included:


Height – Short breeds were more prone to beg for food, have serious attachment issues, be afraid of other dogs, roll in feces, be overly sensitive to touch, defecate and urinate when left alone, and more difficult to train. They also were more inclined to hump people’s legs.


Weight – Lighter weight breeds were more excitable, hyperactive, and more likely to exhibit “dog rivalry” than heavier dogs. They were also more apt to run away from home.


Head shape – Head shape was found to be related to some problematic behaviors. Long-nosed dogs were more prone to inappropriate chasing fearfulness of strangers. Dogs with short noses and wide skulls were more apt to attack other dogs.


Keep in mind the results are statistical generalizations based on samples. Your small dog is not a basket case! He just may be more prone to becoming one without your guidance and support.




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