Researchers at Michigan State University have discovered that dogs often take on the same personality traits as their owner. The study revealed that dogs are like humans in that they have personalities that are shaped over time.
“When humans go through big changes in life, their personality traits can change. We found that this also happens with dogs – and to a surprisingly large degree,” said study lead author Professor William Chopik. ‘We expected the dogs’ personalities to be fairly stable because they don’t have wild lifestyle changes humans do, but they actually change a lot. 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.”
The researchers also found that a dog’s personality can predict many important life outcomes, such as how close they become with their owners, their biting behavior, and chronic illness.
Professor Chopik surveyed the owners of more than 1,600 dogs of 50 different breeds that were anywhere from a few weeks to 15 years old. The owners were asked to evaluate their dog’s personalities and to answer questions about the dog’s behavioral history. In addition, the owners answered questions about their own personalities.
“We found correlations in three main areas: age and personality, in human-to-dog personality similarities and in the influence a dog’s personality has on the quality of its relationship with its owner,” said Professor Chopik. “Older dogs are much harder to train; we found that the ‘sweet spot’ for teaching a dog obedience is around the age of six, when it outgrows its excitable puppy stage but before it’s too set in its ways.”
Individuals who were extroverted rated their dogs as more excitable and active, while owners who reported more negative emotions rated their dogs as being fearful and less responsive to training. People who rated themselves as being agreeable rated their dogs as being less fearful and less aggressive toward people and animals.
“There are a lot of things we can do with dogs – like obedience classes and training – that we can’t do with people,” said Professor Chopik. “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.”
The study is published in the Journal of Research in Personality.