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The Dog Temperaments


Explanations > Conditioning > The Dog Temperaments

The four temperaments | Discussion | So what?


In his experiments with the behavior of dogs given different stimuli, Ivan Pavlov found that they could be categorized using for different temperaments, according to their reactions to stress.

The four temperaments

These are the categories that Pavlov used. What is rather interesting is how similar to human reactions that these responses seem to be...

Strong excitatory

These dogs were highly strung and easily became very excited with moderate levels of stress.


These dogs were also very responsive to stress, but were not as extreme in their reactions as the strong excitatory animals.

Calm imperturbable

These dogs had a generally passive response to stress, coping well with it. They neither became particularly excited nor paralyzed.

Weak inhibitory

Reacts to stress with extreme passivity in order to avoid tension. High levels of stress led them to a state of virtual paralysis, including inhibition and blocking of brain functions.


All dogs could be induced into the paralyzed state, but required higher levels of stress than the weak inhibitory types. Pavlov concluded that this must be some kind of protective mechanism, whereby when the brain is overloaded, it protects itself by shutting down. Each dog thus has a 'breaking point' at the limits of their endurance to stress (Pavlov called this 'transmarginal inhibition').

Pavlov found that when broken down, they became much more susceptible to conditioning of new behaviors. An interesting point here is that the weak inhibitory dogs broke down first but also forgot their new conditioning first, whereas the calm imperturbable ones took longer and more stress to break down, but then retained their conditioned behaviors for longer.

The four types can be organized as a 2x2 matrix by separating them by their level of passivity and the extremeness of their response to stress. Extreme response dogs had a much lower tolerance of stress. Extreme response may be due to a heightened sensitivity to the environment, whilst less response could be due to a more limited sensitivity. These may also equate to Jung's (and Myers Briggs) Introversion and Extraversion.


Pavlov's four temperaments


Extreme response Moderate response



Strong excitatory



Weak inhibitory


Calm imperturbable


So what?

These types can be used, with appropriate caution, to help understand the responses of different to people to stress. People with extreme responses are likely to need less stress to get them moving.

Understand whether the other person has an active or passive response. If you want to enthuse people, then stressing an active person will work, whilst stressing a passive person may cause them to retreat. Also know that if a person is easy to convert to your cause, then they are also likely to easily fall by the wayside.

See also

Fight-or-Flight reaction, Extraversion vs. Introversion

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