“I really do not like this new dog, he is not like my old one.” After many happy years, this couple recently lost their beloved dog. The wife thought if she got a dog of the same breed and color, he would be exactly like their old dog. I was called in because the wife was devastated that the new dog was behaving differently from their old dog. I was charged with making this dog just like her old one. First, let’s look at dogs and what I can expect to varying degrees.
When I work with an Australian Cattle Dog I can predict some level of certain traits based on breed. The same with Golden Retrievers, Shetland Sheepdogs, Dachshunds, any purebred dog has certain traits I can expect based on their breed. This is why a Bassett Hound will behaviorally never be a Border Collie. Therefore, when someone who is a couch potato asks if I think a German Shorthaired Pointer would be a good choice of a companion I can try to steer them to a better suited dog. However, this predictability does not mean two dogs of the same breed or type will behave identically.
Genetics lays the base for everything including inherited predispositions with temperament. Even a litter of purebred puppies can have a range of temperament traits. Sometimes the genetics fairy has a sense of humor or a bad cup of coffee when she decides what will be inherited and how. I owned a Sheltie who was extremely laid back. His temperament was much different from what Shelties generally are. His littermate was an outstanding performance dog competing in various sports. My guy went on to be the dog I founded The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project with. There can be a wider range in temperaments in crossbred puppies even from the same litter based on how things are inherited. The genetics behind behavior is a fascinating topic.
So, I knew in general what to expect from the type of dog this couple had. He was also a purebred of a breed I have lived with for decades. However, the dog the couple lost was from an excellent breeder who bred for correct temperament and type. The dog they had now was a cute guy from a breed rescue but he was from a questionable background. We knew he was purebred but nothing of his lineage. Genetics lays the ground work. The better the ground you build upon, the better chance of a solid building. Upon that ground we build a foundation.
The first 8 weeks or more the puppy is with whomever has the litter is crucial. Just like building a house or office building, or gee the Metro expansion here in the Washington, DC area, if the groundwork and foundation are not there, it will affect construction. If early and careful socializing is not done then it can negatively affect what the owner is capable of building from there.
The first give or take 16 weeks for a puppy is crucial regarding social development. But will we do everything identically with each puppy we raise? Nope, because we are human. Now let’s take a little sci-fi side trip to see how far people would go to make a pet just like…
I was asked by a couple who had an elderly dog they loved beyond belief (and they had the money to do this) could they clone her and get exactly what they had now. No. Cloning will not give you an exact replica. Cloning creates an embryo, not an individual. I have had dogs in my life I wish I could clone but I know I would never get exactly what I had. Why?
My knowledge of socializing, training and behavior is far different from what it was in the 1980s. I am not the same person I was 5, 15, 25, 35 years ago. How I socialize and train is much different. My knowledge about the science behind dog work is light years from what it was in the late 1970’s when I got the first dog I ever formally worked with. I know the importance of genetics and not isolating a puppy until four months old as many older school trainer and veterinarians still recommend. I know the science behind learning and how to positively develop behaviors needed instead of punishing a dog into compliance. No matter what genetics gave me in a clone, the dog would never be identical in looks or behavior to my old dog.
Back to the woman who was upset their new dog was not identical in behavior to the one they lost though he was the same breed and color. This dog was an individual shaped by his own genetics and the experiences before coming to this home. Even if they obtained him as a younger pup as they did their old dog, this boy would still be himself. The wife was not ready to accept this. She was still mourning the dog they lost. It was very hard for her to move on. She had not given herself enough time. Her husband was set to love this new dog. He was ready. She demanded the dog be like her old dog.
After time, she began to come around. I can only hope years later she is happy with the dog. He really was a fun guy once he began to adjust to the new house.
What do I want you to take from this? Each dog, each pet, is an individual. We will never have another pet “just like…” but we can open our hearts to new adventures and another chapter in our lives.