“We uncovered similarities to their owners, the optimal time for training and even a time in their lives that they can get more aggressive toward other animals.”
Dogs, like people, have moods and personality traits that shape how they react in certain situations, but findings from a Michigan State University research study reveal that, also like humans, dogs’ personalities likely change over time.
“When humans go through big changes in life, their personality traits can change,” said William Chopik, professor of psychology and lead author of the study. “We found that this also happens with dogs — and to a surprisingly large degree.”
Chopik said the researchers expected dogs’ personalities to be fairly stable because they don’t have “wild lifestyle changes humans do,” but they actually change a lot.
Besides whether dog age has an effect on personality, researchers looked at whether there were associations between dog behavior, health and biting history, at whether dog personality was correlated with owner personality, and at whether owner personality and dog personality affected the quality of the relationship between the two.
“We uncovered similarities to their owners, the optimal time for training and even a time in their lives that they can get more aggressive toward other animals,” Chopik stated.
Correlations were found in three main areas:
•age and personality,
•human-to-dog personality similarities,
•and in the influence a dog’s personality has on the quality of its relationship with its owner.
Age and personality:
Chopik found that older dogs are much harder to train and that the ‘sweet spot’ for teaching a dog obedience is around the age of 6, when it outgrows its excitable puppy stage but before it’s too set in its ways.
Aggression toward people, responsiveness to training, and aggression toward other animals were highest among 6–8-year-old dogs. Aaccording to the study, “An apex of 6.69 years old for dogs may reveal that dogs around this point are higher in aggression toward people than younger dogs but are similar in aggression as older dogs.” (Female dogs, purebred dogs, and fixed dogs were found to be less aggressive toward people.)
Probably, not surprisingly, the study found that older dogs were less active/excitable compared to younger dogs.
The research showed that dogs and owners share specific personality traits.
Owners who rated themsevles high in agreeableness, open-mindedness or conscientiousness rated their dogs as less fearful, more active/excitable, and less agressive.
Owners high in “negative emotionality” rated their dogs as more fearful and active/excitable, and less
responsive to training.
Neurotic owners rated their dogs as more fearful.
The researchers pointed out that the patterns of responses were not simply indicative of the participants projecting their personalities on their pets, and that future research could focus on the possibility that “humans choose dogs who are compatible with their lifestyles and that humans’ lifestyles jointly shape human and dog personality over time.”
Dog personality influence:
The owners who felt happiest about their relationships with their dogs reported active and excitable dogs, as well as dogs who were most responsive to training. Aggression and anxiety didn’t matter as much in having a happy relationship.
Interstingly, female owners and owners of older dogs reported higher relationship quality with their dogs.
Dogs and fear:
The study found that purebred dogs, fixed dogs and dogs exposed to an obedience class were less fearful.
The study and future research:
The research, published in Journal of Research in Personality, is one of the first studies of its kind to examine changes in dog personalities. Chopik surveyed owners of more than 1,600 dogs (46.2% Female; 50% purebred), including 50 different breeds.
Dogs ranged from just a few weeks old to 15 years, and were split closely between male and female. The extensive survey had owners evaluate their dog’s personalities and answer questions about the dog’s behavioral history. The owners also answered a survey about their own personalities.
Next, Chopik’s will research will examine how the environment owners provide their dogs might change the dogs’ behavior. He explained that many of the reasons a dog’s personality changes are related to the “nature versus nurture” theory associated with human personalities.
“There are a lot of things we can do with dogs—like obedience classes and training—that we can’t do with people,” Chopik said. “Exposure to obedience classes was associated with more positive personality traits across the dog’s lifespan. This gives us exciting opportunities to examine why personality changes in all sorts of animals.”
Chopik also gave the example of a dog being adopted from a shelter with some traits likely tied to biology and resistant to change still becoming more relaxed and sociable in an environment where it is loved, walked and entertained often.
He added, “Now that we know dogs’ personalities can change, next we want to make strong connection to understand why dogs act—and change—the way they do.”
Old dog, new tricks: Age differences in dog personality traits, associations with human personality traits, and links to important outcomes Author: William J. Chopik,Jonathan R. Weaver Publication: Journal of Research in Personality