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Is a dogs bad behaviour because of the owner?

Well, I’ll put this bluntly, no. Behaviour depends on an awful lot of factors, like genetics and environment, such as relationships, health, and past learning. The study of this is called epigenetics and basically, it’s the research of how the environment and genetics come together to create behaviour.

Now, let's imagine there are human twins. They both have identical genetics, however, 1 could grow up to be a doctor, whereas the other could commit crimes and end up in jail. The only difference here would be environmental experiences. So we know it’s not

solely genes that decide who we are and what we do.

Here are my two German Shepherds/Collies. They are sisters from the same litter, yet they look very different and their behaviour is completely different. The difference is, for seven months, Bella (the black one) was in a different home so that obviously affected her behaviour. If I had them both from 8 weeks, I would expect their behaviour and temperament to be more similar.

On the flip side, there are plenty of behaviours that can be affected by genetics, for example, certain physical and mental health issues. Fears can also be inherited, for example, there was a study of rats where they fired a cherry blossom scent into their crate, then sent an electric shock through the floor of the crate. After a few repetitions, the smell of cherry blossom predicted the shock and they, therefore, showed fear responses to the cherry blossom smell. Now, when these rats had babies, their babies also showed fear responses to the smell of cherry blossom! Weird huh! So the information was passed down by genetics, basically because it could potentially be vital for that line of rats to survive (Dias and Ressler, 2013).

When we apply this to dogs, it means that if a dog is anxious or scared around other dogs, their offspring is more likely to be anxious or scared too!

Now, id like you to think of epigenetics this way:

Your dog's DNA and Genetic make up is a clothes shop.

Each piece of clothing (or section of DNA) has a price tag (known as Epigenomes).

The prices of these are inherited.

Each social experience your dog has, sights they see, smells they sniff, food they eat, medication and chemicals in the environment either buys the piece of clothing (or expresses that gene) or sells a piece (suppresses that gene).

The clothing that your dog wears from this, determines your dog behaviour.

Obviously, genetics, behaviour, and environmental influences are extremely in-depth and complicated topics, so I hope this has made it relatively simple to understand.

To summarise, all dogs have different chaances of developing certain behaviours that are inherited, and whether they show these behaviours or not is based on the environment, which includes, but certainly isn’t limited to, how they are raised by their owners.

This does not mean that if our dog has a bevahiour problem, that it can't be changed.

We do have the ability to influence our dog's behaviour and actually change emotions.

If you would like more help with your dogs behaviour problems, you can book a 1:1 telephone assessment here.


Dias, B. and Ressler, K., 2013. Parental olfactory experience influences behavior and neural structure in subsequent generations.Nature Neuroscience, 17(1), pp.89-96.

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