http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/temperament says temperament is:
"the combination of mental, physical, and emotional traits of a person; natural predisposition."
"characteristic or habitual inclination or mode of emotional response"
We all know what we don't want. But it is possible we aren't really sure of what we do want. People will say they want a good temperament on a puppy to take home. We're pretty sure this means a puppy who won't attack their kids. It takes a lot of conversation to try and figure out what they do want. It's even harder to figure out whether they really want what they say they want. Especially with people who are inspired to try performance. They certainly don't want a dog who just wants to eat and sleep all day. They hear of something called drive and they think they want it.
I found this great video of a puppy who has high drive. It's a Belgian Malinois baby, 9.5 weeks old.
and at 13 and 15 weeks with LOTS of intense training
While we all want to have a dog that looks as fun to be around as the 15 week old it really needs to be appreciated that a high drive dog needs to be working virtually every moment it's awake or not eating. And it may need to be working while it eats and who knows what they're dreaming about.
I think people need to consider if they are high drive themselves. And if the rest of their life allows them to actually be interacting with their dog as much as this requires. There are varying degrees of drive and ideally we can find a dog with a drive that matches our own.
Another key ingredient to temperament is biddability. While it may be argued that the puppy in the videos is biddable I'm learning that may not be true in the strict sense of the word. The videos don't show the rest of the 24 hours of living with Endy and so I wonder how it goes when Cindy has to deal with the rest of her world.
What exactly is biddable? http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/biddable says:
"easily led, taught, or controlled"
One of my mentors spoke of one of his dogs in explaining biddability. When he takes his dogs out on the road and he hears a car coming he tells all of his dogs to go to the side of the road and lie down. There's one young dog who is so sure of what his feeder-walker wants that now when he hears a car, and since he's a dog it is way sooner than when his trainer can hear it let alone give a command, he goes to the side of the road and lies down. That's biddable!
Another aspect of a herding dog is instinct. This link is an excellent article on distinguishing herding instinct from prey drive. And it also goes into drive and biddability.
We're learning more and more that these traits are heritable. While environment can modify the traits one way or the other, they have to be in the DNA. So breeders will breed for a temperament they want. But the question is: Since there really aren't enough herding and performance enthusiasts out there what traits should we focus on? In my mind the highest priority should be biddability. And something else too.
That something else that isn't brought up very often is attitude. A dog can be high drive, biddable and have wonderful instinct but still have issues. A dog may want to please its owner but more out of anxiety than out of joy in doing so. Just like people dogs can be motivated from both places and you can tell. The anxious dog can't relax, has a more difficult time with playing. Or they can have separation anxiety where they have to be with their person in order to be calm on some level.
This last item I think is in a grayer area of nature vs. nurture with nurture (environment) being critical in the early life of a puppy and becoming more cemented in the older dog's nature. A dog that grew up in an anxious home might always retain a certain level of that no matter where they live. Conversely, I do think it's possible that a puppy can grow up in a happy environment and still be a worrier. I learned in my genetics class that environment can cause certain genes to remain dormant or be expressed. Maybe this is the way it works with attitude. I do believe you can teach an old dog new tricks but it might be limited to how much change can be had. It depends on the dedication and skill of the trainer and the degree of intensity of the environment that shaped the behavior traits and what the genes say about the essential dog.
I'm by no means an expert on this stuff. But it was an interesting bit of dialog and I felt compelled to share it and open it up to others to share their thoughts.