I am an introvert at heart. I know that because every personality test I’ve ever taken says that I am an introvert. Also, crowds wear me out. Also, I am perfectly fine being alone. Well, alone except for my dogs, and since I have five dogs that means I am never really alone, at least not for long.
We know people fall somewhere along the introvert/extrovert spectrum, but have you ever thought about where your dog might fall? I think about it all the time, not just as a dog trainer but as a dog owner. If we knew more about dogs’ personalities, it would help to create better matches between dog and owners. After all, you are committing at least ten years to your dog and many dollars in vet care, so why not know going in whether your dog is outgoing or more on the shy side? Why not know for sure which kind of dog you prefer?
I’ve always been drawn to breeds such German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Dobermans, etc., and have shared my life with many shepherds and one intense Rottweiler. Generally speaking, they seem to be more of an extroverted breed, though of course there is great variance in any breed. For many years I was hung up on Scottish Terriers -– if that breed isn’t extroverted than none are. Something shifted in me more than a decade ago and I found myself attracted to herding breeds, Border Collie specifically.
When I started looking for a rescue Border Collie in need — most of my dogs have been rescues and I’ve fostered 400-plus dogs over a decade — I kept hearing a rather ugly saying about herding dogs: “You kick a Heeler; you scream at an Australian Shepherd; you whisper to a Border Collie.” (And no, not as in The Dog Whisperer whispering. He actually shouts at dogs with his coarse body language when he tosses them on their backs to teach ’em who’s boss.) I love Heelers and Aussies and wouldn’t yell or kick at either breed, but the whispering part got to me regarding Border Collies. I ended up with a brother and sister pair whom I rescued from the back of a horse trailer. They had nearly become feral because the ignorant breeder refused to let them around people “so they bond with their new owners.”
My Border Collies happened to be monster sheep herders. I took the female, Echo, to a sheep herding clinic when she was one year old. The clinician told me she had big talent, just before he yelled at me and threw me out of the herding round pen. It was so hot that day, and because my Echo was so sensitive to me and my movements, when I got cussed out I momentarily put my hands on my hips and gave Echo a hard stare –- not meaning to. I was complaining about the heat with my body and Echo took it as a threat that the sheep were mine and she backed off. I hurt her sensitive Border Collie feelings with just my body language.
Echo, like me, doesn’t like crowds. She and I are both much more comfortable outside in nature, preferably hiking a mountain in gorgeous Colorado, where we live. Echo becomes bold around sheep or my donkeys, which may appear to her as particularly funny-looking sheep. She is friendly to guests in our house but is timid in the way she approaches to be petted.
My newest family edition –- a four-month-old German Shepherd puppy named Trinket -– is the opposite of shy. She loves everybody. She is also bold in training. Just this week we were doing some nose work in our basement and I had out the food box up on a chair. She couldn’t quite locate the box but she got damn close when she launched herself fearlessly onto the shelf three feet up and next to the food box. Nothing seems to scare her.
People fawn over both dogs when I walk with them in town, but they flip out over Trinket. Is it because she rushes to meet them, tail wagging and happy as a clam to say how much she loves them, even though she just met them? Echo would never do that. She will walk up to a stranger and sit politely, and if you want to pet her, that’s okay. If you don’t, that’s okay, too.
Perhaps Trinket and the humans she loves are getting a mutual high on a feedback loop: she runs to great them and they rush to pet her in return. She says in her doggy way: “You are a good human and I looooooove you.” We all love to be loved. Echo’s approach mirrors my own on meeting strangers: “Meh.”
I’ve noticed something about myself recently as it relates to Trinket. I now expect people to tell me how gorgeous and friendly she is, as though I had anything to do with that (I didn’t). I even find myself mad if people fail to notice her, as though she were my daughter and she was the prettiest, most popular girl in school and that somehow reflects positively on me.
When I am with Echo, I find myself giving other humans a wide berth, because Echo isn’t wild about strangers petting her. I find myself presenting my own body language with a “don’t talk to me” stance, which is for me a natural way not to have to talk to strangers (it works). I appreciate that Echo and I don’t always want to chitchat with every person on our path.
Trinket is such a lover that I got stuck talking to a drunk lady in town last week. She told me she would fall on her knees and worship Trinket and, oh, would I please give her my dog? She felt Trinket was her soulmate. Just after that, Trinket jumped up on a man minding his own business drinking coffee at an outdoor table. She spilled his coffee on him. He didn’t seem terribly upset because then she tried to lick the coffee off of him …
I also find a little smugness in something Trinket does. She expresses absolute delight in meeting strangers, but she’s quick about it. She’ll say hello and “I love you!” in a just a minute and then she’s done and on to the next stranger. And, she always looks back at me in between meeting newcomers, and I am pretty sure I see true love in her eyes. She is willing to sit in my lap for hours, but for strangers, they get a minute and that’s it.
I have the best of both worlds in Echo and Trinket, and they each express a true part of my nature. I don’t wish them, or me, to be any different than we are.
Is your dog an introvert or an extrovert? Tell us in the comments!
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