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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (March 31, 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067147247X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671472474
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #728,586 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Daniel F. Tortora, Ph.D., is an animal psychologist and nationally known expert in canine behavior.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

Breed, Behavior and Temperament

What do we mean by "temperament"? We may think of terms such as loyal, congenial, affectionate, regal, aristocratic, tranquil, eager to please, shy, happy-go-lucky, attentive, alert, self-confident, energetic, obedient, sweet, rollicking, courageous, intelligent, gentle, upstanding and quiet. On the other side of the coin, we may think of words such as aggressive, mean, stupid, lazy, quarrelsome, aloof and so on.

These terms, normally used to describe a dog's behavior by everyday folk and by the American Kennel Club, are useful to the extent that they enable us to predict the behavior of a dog so labeled. For example, you would expect a shy dog to avoid strangers and novel objects, an affectionate dog to engage in a lot of nuzzling and licking, an obedient dog to train easily and retain its skills a long time. A rollicking dog would be one that does a lot of jumping and running about. A quiet dog is one that probably doesn't bark or howl very much. An attentive or alert dog is one that notices subtle changes in its environment or in its owners.

The problem, of course, is that there is no generally accepted definition for any of these potentially useful words. Even though we have just defined them my way, the average person may not agree with me or simply proceed to use the words any old way that pleases him or her at the moment.

In addition, these words have not been objectified by identifying, through a repeatable set of operations, the behaviors that go along with them. Since there is no standard set of operational definitions, we are free to use the words any way we choose, and we usually do. The result is labeling chaos.

To add to this chaos, we also use words like regal, aristocratic, congenial, courageous, upstanding, happy-go-lucky, sweet, quarrelsome and so on. These words do not reflect any definite canine behavior. I have never witnessed a quarrel among dogs, nor even a heated discussion, but I have seen a dog bark and fight with other dogs. Upstanding could mean standing erect and upright, but it is probably used in the sense of morally right and honest. You know, the kind of dog you would vote for.

There is a further problem in using such terms to describe temperament in dogs. Because all the previously mentioned terms are frequently used to describe human behavior too, we can fall into the trap of "anthropomorphizing" (i.e., attributing human characteristics to) the looks, temperament and behavior of dogs. This is an error of logic. It is best to remember that even though an English Bulldog may remind us of Winston Churchill, it would not really make an effective Prime Minister of England.

Canine Behavior

In spite of the fact that people frequently treat their pets like humans and think of their dog's behavior in human terms, dogs are canines. They are a member of the family Canidae, which includes wolves, coyotes, foxes, jackals and some obscure canids from Asia, Africa and South America. Our pets are also members of the genus Canis and the species familiaris. Table 1 provides a list of our dogs' family relatives.

Our pet dog, Canis familiaris, has roots that can be traced back some forty million years. It is commonly believed that the domestic dog, Canis familiaris, was developed from the Eurasian wolf, Canis lupus, beginning some twelve thousand years ago as the people who captured and domesticated wolf puppies started the practice of selective breeding. Each culture probably had a concept of what would be the most desirable behavioral and physical characteristics of the captured canines and mated those animals which exhibited these traits. Voilà! Twelve thousand years later we have 123 or more distinct breeds in the United States (500 throughout the world) varying in size from the Chihuahua, which can be 4 to 6 inches at the shoulder and weigh less than six pounds, to the Mastiff, which can be as much as 34 inches at the shoulder and weigh over 200 pounds.

Only recently has the study of animal behavior in general, and that of Canis familiaris in particular, come under scientific scrutiny. Researchers in this area most frequently are interested in identifying the genetic determinants of behavior and temperament (instinctual behavior) and separating such behavior from behaviors and traits that develop as a result of reinforced practice (learned behavior).

Around 1950, Dr. John Paul Scott and Dr. John L. Fuller started what turned out to be a fifteen-year project on the genetics of canine social behavior. Some of their observations will be incorporated herein. For our purposes, the important conclusion to be drawn from this work is that canine temperament was reliably shown to vary with breeds, at least in the five breeds these researchers tested. It's a pretty safe inference that the rest of the breeds vary systematically in temperament as well.

There are certain behaviors that have developed over millions of years of evolutionary trial and error. Some of these behaviors are common to the whole family of Canidae and can be called family-typical behaviors. The set of behaviors common to the genus Canis are genus-typical behaviors. The set of behaviors common to the species Canis familiaris are species-typical behaviors. The set of behaviors common to specific breeds of dogs are breed-typical behaviors. Finally, each individual dog may exhibit more or less of these family, genus, species and breed typical behaviors in its individual-typical behavior. Thus I define temperament, in part, as the degree to which an individual dog exhibits these individual typical behaviors.

Table 2 gives some examples of family typical and genus typical facial expressions in canids.

You can see from Table 2 that some facial expressions are common to all canids. These are family-typical behaviors. For example, all canids show a submissive grin by pulling their lips way back. This facial expression seems to indicate to other canids and even to some other species, "You're the master; I don't want to fight, and I'm not going to run away. So don't be aggressive toward me; let's be friends and I'll obey you." It's amazing what a smile can say.

A genus-typical behavior would be common only to dogs, wolves and coyotes. Submissive rooting is genus-typical. Your dog does this when he comes up to you and nuzzles his head under your hand or arm and pushes up or forward. Some people would call this a kind of cuddling behavior. It also occurs when your dog puts his paw on your hand or lap. Your dog is probably saying through this behavior, "Pay attention to me, scratch my head, pet me."

I have included another column in Table 2 labeled "Primate Counterpart." I did this to show how we as humans can sometimes understand what our dogs are trying to communicate. Human beings, Homo sapiens, are primates. We share some common behavioral characteristics with our simian cousins, the Great Apes, Orangutans and Chimps. Interestingly, these primate-typical behaviors are sometimes similar to our canine comrades' genus-typical behaviors. For example, smiling in people probably means about the same thing as the submissive grin in dogs. They both say, "I'm friendly; I'm not going to be a threat; in fact, I acknowledge your dominance over me."

This is probably why humans have been able to cohabit with canines for so long. We are both pack or social animals and share some social signals. This is also why humans have the unfortunate habit of anthropomorphizing canine behavior. We interpret the behavior of dogs as if it were human and give dog behavior human labels. Sometimes our interpretations are on the mark, especially when there is a congruence between human and canine social signals. This lulls us into believing that our interpretations will be always right. This conclusion, of course, is in error, because there are an equal number of social signals we don't share with dogs. For the most part, men don't define the boundaries of their territory by lifting their legs and urinating on the nearest tree or bush. Thus, it would be better for us to avoid anthropomorphizing our dog's temperamental characteristics. Rather, we need to categorize a dog's temperament along dimensions of canine genus- and species-typical behavior.

Dimensions of Temperament

Categorizing a dog's temperament along dimensions has two advantages over the use of terms like quarrelsome, congenial, loyal, etc., that I mentioned earlier. First, it provides "evolutionary validity" for our definition of temperament. That is, it connects the definition to the body of knowledge that has been accumulated on the evolutionary and genetic determinants of canine behavior. Secondly, a consideration of "dimensions'' of temperament permits us to specify much more precisely what we are talking about. When our descriptions are dimensionalized, we can begin to say that some breeds show more or less of a temperamental trait than others, and we can specify how large the difference is. Defining a breed's temperament by locating its typical behavior along several dimensions will thus allow you to compare that breed's behavior with the behavior of other breeds. This in turn will provide you with information you need to match your own personality and life-style to the temperament of a particular breed.

To dimensionalize a component of temperament, we define the end points of that component and then define a series of points between those end points. By doing this, the component becomes a dimension and we can then locate any breed's behavior along that dimension. I have followed this procedure to generate sixteen dimensions that I think are the most relevant in identifying temperament differences among breeds. Those dimensions are listed in Table 3.

Several different sources were used to locate each breed on each of these dimensions of temperament. These sources included: data from surveys of veterinaria...

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Customer Reviews

This book helped me find the ideal dog for me and my family.
getabasset@aol.com
Once you pick a breed, by all means look to a breed book for more information and specific tips.
Keerawa
It is very easy to use and gives so much accurate information in a great format.
Sue Beachem

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 22, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book desperately needs to be updated, as there are several breeds who need to be included, but aside from that, this is the most extensive and helpful book anyone could have in choosing the right dog for your personality and lifestyle. Unlike most personality matchup tests which ask very vague and general questions for which "yes" or "no" answers are not enough, Tortora's book leads you step by step through a very detailed personality questionnaire, narrowing the list of dogs as you go, to find the ideal match for your personality, lifestyle and activity level. Tortora also includes the negative information along with the positive. Too often, the information from breeders who love the breed is all positive and they typically omit the breed's mischief, destruction or temperamental propensities. Tortora's book was the most helpful in steering me away from breeds I'd always liked, but who wouldn't fit my personality. So many dogs end up in shelters because people don't do enough research on a breed prior to buying and they end up with a dog who clashes with their personality and/or lifestyle or whom they cannot control. If you're a non-assertive female who has always loved the Kuvasz, for example, Tortora's book might make you think twice about whether you can handle such a strong, dominant dog who is prone to take control over someone he considers submissive to him before you find yourself in the heartbreaking situation of giving him to a shelter. In my opinion, Tortora's book is the best on the market and it only falls short of 5 stars because it needs to be updated. I recommend using it in conjunction with Chris Walkowicz' "The Perfect Match: a Dog Buyer's Guide" to cover the breeds not included in Tortora's book. Hopefully, if more people research the breeds to find one that will be a more perfect soulmate than just going on curb appeal or popularity, then there will be fewer animals in shelters and pounds.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Keerawa on July 31, 2002
Format: Paperback
I am now buying my third copy of this book. I loan it out to any aquaintance thinking of getting a breed of dog they are not truly familiar with. If propsective owners went through this book, there would be much fewer animals ending up in rescue! Here are "The Right Dog for You"'s major advantages:
1) The book is honest about breeds, warts and all. Tortora is a man who has seen how different breeds go wrong, and it shows in his writing. Some reviewers don't like this somewhat negative slant, but I think it is absolutely vital when picking the right dog. Books that gush about how each breed is "wonderful in it's own way" aren't giving you the info you need to make an informed choice about what dog to spend the next decade of your life with.
2) The information is broken out in a consistent, analytical way that makes comparisons easy. I love those detailed temperment charts! Also, having indoor / outdoor activity levels listed is vital for making a good match between your lifestyle and a breed's habits.
3) Near the end of a book is a series of "quizzes" about your lifestyle and ideal dog, which result in a list of compatible breeds. If you've taken a Cosmo quiz, you can do this! It's strightforward, and gives you a specific set of breeds to look up in other sections of the book, or in other resources. I like the fact that this makes it harder to cheat, like you might in leading other books. "Gosh, that's a gorgeous dog! Hmmm ... vigorous exercise and assertive personality? .... Well, I guess that could be me!"
The book's major disadvantages:
1) Not intuitively laid out. The front and back halves of the book would be more useful if they were integrated together.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By cindy stavenhagen on May 27, 1998
Format: Paperback
Tortora's book IS dated, but it is one of the most valuable sources of the breed-choosing books. He's not afraid to mention negative traits, which isn't always the case. (Look for out-of-print "D is for Dog" for some really candid descriptions). The long parts in the back about matching your own personality, family type and lifestyle is not just useful, it's fascinating.
Anyone who is serious about choosing a dog with as much forethought as they SHOULD, to make that match-from-heaven for 10-15 years, ought to read all the breed-choice books available. Some are contradictory regarding certain breeds. If one of those breeds appeals to you, try to find out why the contradictions. When you finally make a "short list", get to know some real dogs. And don't just think of behavioral traits, size and coat type. Look on the net at the OFA and other hereditary disease sites--the OFA lists breed incidence of hip dysplasia (range between breeds is from about 70% to 2%!). Cavalier King Charles Spaniels seemed to be temperamentally the ideal small dog, but more than half of them have congenital heart defects (and pups cost about $1200!).
If you want my soapbox opinion, here goes. Don't buy a breed that is so deformed it can't live a normal life. Dogs that can't breathe properly, have serious eye difficulties due to some exaggerated appearance thing (round pop-eyes or extremely droopy eyes, for example--or the "collie eye" problems of several herding breeds), or routinely have to be propagated by AI and Ceasarian sections have been taken too far by "fanciers". As a pet owner, you can encourage better dog breeding.
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