THE PERSONALITY OF DOGS

Black Labrador with branch

The personality of dogs is similar to the personalities of humans. They vary in how they approach different situations and their overall temperament differs.

The personality of dogs

The dimension of dogs

Dogs show one of five dimensions:

  • fearfulness,
  • aggression toward people,
  • activity/excitability,
  • responsiveness to training,
  • aggression toward animals.

The difference between dog temperament and personality

Personality is the collection of characteristics (traits) that make a person unique.

It is still unclear how dog personality correlates with human personality. It is also unclear how dog and human personalities contribute to the quality of human-dog relationships.

A Dog Personality Questionnaire (DPQ) to fill this gap was developed by Amanda Jones. You can download her Dog Personality Questionaire (pdf) here.

Personality match between dog and owner

There is a high rate of dog abandonment worldwide. Research has been done on how satisfied owners are with their self-chosen dogs to formulate processes that can be followed to keep dog abandonment at the lowest possible rate.

White Labrador puppy chewing

Four characteristics were significantly associated with owner satisfaction:

  • tendency to share possessions,
  • love of running outside,
  • the likeliness of being destructive,
  • ability to get along with others.

This suggests that prospective owners should use these four characteristics when choosing a dog.

Labradors fit nearly perfect into these characteristics as they are people pleasers and only become destructive when they are bored, mainly when they are separated from their owners for long periods.

Reasons why owner and dog personalities may be similar

  • There may be at least three reasons why owners and dog personalities might be related (there could be more). Owners and dogs might have similar personalities based on a selection effect where owners select dogs that match their personalities just as they would choose their friends.
  • Owners and dogs might have similar personalities based on a socialization effect. The shared activities and environments of humans and dogs might jointly influence their personalities as in relationships between humans. Extraverted owners might bring their dogs to social events, which may in turn socialize them with humans (and make them less aggressive).
  • Owners and dogs might have similar personalities because owners have idiosyncratic (individual) ways of evaluating things in their lives or even project their personalities on things that they evaluate, including their dogs. Source

Someone who has a peace-seeking personality would presumably not pick an aggressive breed of dog and vice versa.

The study and measurement of dog personality

Dogs differ in five ways:

  • Fearfulness characterizes a dog’s general anxiety and fearfulness toward people, other dogs, new environments, and handling (e.g., by groomers and owners).
  • Aggression toward other animals characterizes a dog’s aggression and dominance towards other dogs and perceived prey (e.g., squirrels).
  • Aggression toward people characterizes a dog’s general and situational aggression toward humans.
  • Activity/excitability characterizes a dog’s general level of excitability, playfulness, engagement, and companionability.
  • Responsiveness to training characterizes a dog’s trainability and controllability (e.g., leaving food alone when they are told to).

The personality of dogs might differ by age, and why it is important

You are aware of how emotion can influence your worldview (perceptions of how the world functions). Most of these emotional influences only appear for short periods in your life.

But what happens if you experience a negative or positive emotion continuously? Would that not affect how “dark” or how “light” you will perceive the world? Mechanisms that drive human personality are believed to also drive canine personality development.

And just as human personality changes with age, so do dog personalities.

Old Brown Labrador Retriever

A combination of genetic circumstances, physiological changes, or environmental features alter biological processes that underlie the traits.

As your Labrador ages physically, it may lead to changes in personality. The process of deterioration with age influences behavior, for example, the ability to handle aggression may change with age.

Training and new environments may also lead to changes in personality.

Whether these personality changes are permanent depends a lot on whether the influence that triggers it, remains in force and creates a bevioral feedback loop.

Shelters, adoption agencies, and potential owners make many inferences about a dog and its personality. Being able to ascertain a dog’s personality, how it will change as the dog grows older, and how dog and human personalities are related can contribute significantly to the correct matching of owners and dogs and result in fewer abandoned dogs.

How would you describe your dog’s personality?

Dogs share the living space of humans like no other animal.

Shelters that have the task of finding the best home for abandoned dogs, people looking for a pet dog and institutions that need assistance dogs, all want to know how the present personality traits and behavior of a dog will develop in the future.

The better they can identify future behavior the bigger the chances that the dog and human will live happily together for longer.

Service dogs that have been identified successfully will be more effective in their work and of more value to the people they must serve. Successful identification also means less waste in training costs and time.

Research shows that dog personalities remain generally consistent in dogs with predictions less reliable in puppies.

This observation means that owners and people who must choose dogs to train as assistance dogs, can rely on personality tests and be reasonably sure of what behavior they can expect.

Dogs tend to adopt the personality traits of their owners and their personalities are also shaped over time.

Matching the personality of dogs and their owners on a few characteristics may predict owner satisfaction. This is important as it may reduce the number of dogs that are relinquished by owners as well as the number of dogs left homeless each year.

Here is a Dog Personality Questionnaire (pdf) that could help identify your Labrador’s personality.

Sources:

  • https://gosling.psy.utexas.edu/scales-weve-developed/dog-personality-questionnaire-dpq/
  • https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0092656618301661
  • https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.2752/175303713X13697429463673
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3553070/
  • Images: Ilka Lünstäden, Unsplash and Jatocreate, Pixabay