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Dog personality traits change over time, but not at the same pace

Dogs have personality traits that change over time at their own rate, following a distinct age trajectory, according to a study led by Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE). As humans get older, we become more emotionally stable, agreeable, and conscientious, while dogs have personalities that are not as well understood.

“Even though dog personality is a highly popular topic in the literature, there are still gaps about long-term stability, as well as about the dynamics of personality development,” said study first author Borbála Turcsán. 

She explained that these dynamics include which personality traits remain consistent over several years, how much dogs actually change throughout their life, and at what age the most prominent personality changes occur.

To investigate, the researchers analyzed the personalities of more than 200 Border collies ranging from 6 months to 15 years old using a comprehensive test battery known as the Vienna Dog Personality Test (VIDOPET). Four years after the initial assessment, the experts tested many of the subjects again.

“Longitudinal studies covering multiple years and using the same method at both time points are very rare in dog literature,” said study co-author Professor Friederike Range. “Following up the same dogs across ~4 years allowed us to address not only the question of personality stability, but also if there are individual differences in personality development, that is, if dogs with certain personality profiles change more than others.”

The researchers found that dog personality has some stability, as the dogs ranked fairly consistently on all five personality traits across the study period. For example, the most active dogs remained the most active 4 years later. 

The study also showed that individuals with a more mature personality profile – including those that were less active, less curious, and more oriented to problems – did not exhibit changes in these traits compared to their peers.

To identify any age-related shifts in personality traits, the researchers compared dogs belonging to seven age groups. “We found that dogs’ personality changes with age, and these changes occur unevenly during the dogs’ life course, just like in humans,” said study co-author Zsofia Viranyi.

“Crucially, however, the dynamics of change seem to be specific for each personality trait. For example, the problem orientation trait, which describes the dogs’ attentiveness and ability to solve problems, changes largely during early life, increasing strongly until ~6 years of age, after which further changes became negligible.”

“In contrast, the novelty seeking trait did not change markedly during the younger life stages, but ~3 years of age their curiosity about novel objects and situations started to decrease which continued until geriatric age.”

The activity-independence of the dogs also decreased continuously over their lives, but the most pronounced shift in this trait occurred from puppyhood to adolescence. 

On the other hand, some traits did not noticeably evolve with age, such as the dogs’ level of sociability or their tolerance for frustrating situations.

“By describing in detail the normative patterns of personality development throughout different life stages, our study can help in the identification of age-related impairments,” said study co-author Eniko Kubinyi. “Dogs are already recognized as a natural model for human cognitive ageing, and our results suggest that similar rules govern the age-related changes in both human and dog personality.”

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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