What role does breed play in these common dog behavior challenges?

A husky peeks over the wall of the shelter

Does your dog do things that make you cringe or make you frustrated? Have you tried getting your coonhound to stop baying and nothing is working?  

What breed group your dog belongs to influences their behavior, even in mixed breed dogs, particularly if there is 30% or more of a specific group represented in their DNA.  

It’s important to note that just because a breed group is known for having particular characteristics, it doesn't mean those characteristics are guaranteed. For example, huskies are known for their pulling and running drive, but there are individuals that prefer a more laid-back lifestyle.  

While breed doesn’t determine everything about your dog’s behavior, it can be a contributing factor. The good news is that understanding your dog’s breed can help you to better support their needs!   

Understanding the dog in front of you 

Kim Brophey identifies 10 dog breed groups in her book, Meet Your Dog

  • Sight hound 
  • Scent hound 
  • Terrier 
  • Bulldog 
  • Gun dog 
  • Guardian 
  • Herding 
  • Natural dog 
  • Toy dog 
  • World dog 

Living with dogs requires us to know them as a species, as a member of a particular breed group, and as an individual. Knowing the dog in front of you helps you to better meet their needs, which is the foundation of "good" behavior. 

Meeting their emotional needs for safety and bonding, providing appropriate outlets for those innate behaviors encoded in their DNA, and bending a little (or a lot!) in our expectations of them based on who they are will set everyone up on a solid foundation for a lasting and happy relationship.  

Common dog behavior challenges 

Here are some examples of behavior challenges that the Behavior and Training team are asked about frequently, how breed plays a role, and some tips for maximum success.   


For some dog breeds, digging is a natural desire they feel because of the original role they were bred to do. For example, terriers were bred to dig after vermin. Even though they’re largely unemployed ratters today, the desire to dig is still strong.  

Providing a sandbox or designating a corner of the yard for digging can help meet this need and minimize the stress of problematic behavior for both of you. (Pro tip: hide their favorite toys under the sand for them to find!)  

Separation anxiety 

A dog stares out the window

Separation-related behaviors can occur in varying degrees across breed and species. Gun dogs (like the retrievers) and toy dogs (like the Maltese) are bred to work cooperatively and closely with their humans. Because of this, they may be more prone to separation-related behaviors compared to Guardian type dogs, whose work has historically been independent from their people.  

To help establish a secure bond with your new dog, help them gain confidence, and gradually get them comfortable with separation, our Behavior and Training team recommends:  

  • Creating and sticking to predictable routines 
  • Allowing a couple weeks of downtime when you first bring your new dog home (i.e. no outings to busy places or guests over) 
  • Taking time off of work right after you bring your new dog home  

Aggression and resource guarding 

In the right circumstances, aggression is adaptive and allows an individual to survive or protect things necessary for their survival (food, mates, offspring, territory, etc.).   

Most aggressive-looking behavior displays are simply a request for space. If your dog eats faster when you approach their bowl, becomes stiff, or even growls or snaps, they are guarding a precious resource: food.  

Resource guarding is a normal part of the dogs' behavioral repertoire. There is a continuum of intensity, however. Some dogs don't guard at all and some dogs will guard anything in their possession. Most dogs that exhibit resource guarding behaviors guard high-value items like food, bones, and toys.  

Just because it's normal behavior doesn’t mean it's not problematic for the human end of the leash, though. Here are a few ways our Behavior and Training team recommends minimizing the chance for the resource guarding behavior to be triggered:

  • Feed dogs separately from each other and young children 
  • Keep them separated while they have bones 
  • Don’t take things directly from them without “making a trade” 

If your dog has something that you want back, throw a treat across the floor. Usually, they drop the item to go get the treat. Practice “making a trade” with their toys or items that they can have (this is key!) so that when you really need something back, trading is second nature for both of you.  

If you are concerned about your dogs’ resource guarding, it's important to reach out to a professional for help. If not treated appropriately, this behavior can easily get worse.   

Do you have questions about your dog’s behavior? 

Our Behavior and Training specialists can help you build a strong relationship with your pet through healthy communication. We offer group skills classes, specialty classes, and private training sessions, depending on which training methods is right for your dog.  

If you have questions or a specific behavior challenge you’re hoping to work through, you can also use our free Behavior Helpline.