Secrets revealed of canines on the couch

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The Independent Online
The innermost secrets of man's best friend are laid bare this week by research resembling the veterinary equivalent of the psychiatrist's couch.

In one of the most comprehensive assessments of canine character ever undertaken, vets were asked by researchers at Southampton University's Anthrozoology Institute to judge the behavioural traits of the 49 most popular breeds in Britain.

Greyhounds, whippets, basset hounds and English pointers emerge as the most placid - exhibiting ''low aggressivity, low reactivity and low immaturity". At the other end of the scale is a group of notorious little snappers which show ''high aggressivity and immaturity", including Jack Russells, corgis, cocker spaniels and border collies.

The researchers - whose findings are published in Veterinary Record - questioned 112 vets and 56 ''dog-care professionals''.

Respondents were asked to rank the breeds on the basis of 13 characteristics, including their degree of excitability, propensity to snap, playfulness, laziness, submissiveness, and demands for affection. It was found that the breeds could be divided into eight groups on the basis of three factors - aggressivity (territoriality, attitude to other dogs etc) reactivity (excitability, snapping at children, excessive barking) and immaturity (playfulness, destructiveness etc).

The same differences between the sexes emerged across all the breeds, with females rated as easier to train and desiring more affection than males.

''I'm loath to say any breed of dog is ideal,'' said the institute's director, Dr John Bradshaw. ''One person's boring dog is another's perfect dog.'' Good family dogs like the golden retriever which were affectionate and low in aggression also tended to be highly immature - with a tendency to whine, bark and destroy things if left at home, alone. ''Border collies have very high reactivity because they were bred to work hard,'' he said. ''It's not surprising you find large numbers turning up in behaviour clinics - they're not suited for a very urban life.''

Dr Bradshaw said that while there were big differences between breeds, owners' behaviour was just as important in determining a dog's character. ''The first 14 weeks are crucial. You can easily turn a golden retriever into a very nasty dog."