New Study Highlights Human Personality and Dog Behavior

The Study

Does Fido act out because of you? Your behavior likely shapes your dog’s behavior, at least partially. But which personality traits influence the attitudes and actions of your beloved canine, and to what degree?

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania investigated how human personality traits affect a dog’s behavior. This study has limitations, mostly due to wildcard variables, but it offers some interesting ideas that hint at the interplay between enduring human traits and dogs.

The research project primarily studied the relationships of 131 people and their dogs as well as whether the dogs made progress during a behavioral intervention, and to what extent. The researchers found that canine demographic characteristics, owner personality, and owner-dog attachment predicted a dog’s likelihood of decreasing bad behavior. In addition, they noted that many other factors may also affect why Lola can’t stop barking at 3:00 a.m. Genes, neurochemicals, age, and gender are among the many influences unrelated to personality that play a role.

The Human Element in Dog Reformations

The researchers did not absolve human personality traits of having some influence in the process, whether good or bad. For example, the study found associations between the degree that the dog advanced during a behavioral intervention and conscientiousness.

Conscientiousness is part of the Big Five personality model, which many psychological and social researchers use when studying personality and which is uniquely designed for studies like this one. Here at 16Personalities, we describe several personality types within our theoretical framework that correlate to conscientiousness. For example, conscientious behavior is often valued by those with the Judging trait.

The dogs of people possessing this trait were less likely to show progress in changing aggressive behavior toward strangers. The researchers speculated that the conscientious pet owners’ lifestyle and behaviors had shaped their dogs to display more territorial aggression toward other people.

The researchers also found that the dogs of Extraverted pet owners had a greater chance of decreasing nonsocial fears (fear of thunder or other loud noises, for example) and touch sensitivity within three months of behavioral intervention. As an aside, it would seem that Introverts have greater attachment to their dogs, or as the study says, Introverts may show “more resistance to detaching themselves” from their pets. However, the study also states that other recent research shows that Extraverts tend to report tighter relationships with their dogs than Introverts do.

Openness, another Big Five trait, is a quality that some of our 16 personality types possess, often as an expression of the Intuitive trait. Dogs belonging to owners with the openness trait showed a greater decrease in fear of unfamiliar dogs. The researchers speculated that open people are more likely to use updated and better techniques to work with their dogs.

This study is by no means the last word on pets and personality. “Further research is needed” was a steady refrain throughout the study. But there may be enough to captivate pet owners who are also into personality typing. Stay tuned for the arrival of more formal studies.

And Your Pet?

In the meantime, we can do a less-than-scientific study of our own. You’ve seen those pictures where people and their pets resemble each other. When you observe your pet (cat, dog, goldfish, parrot, and so on), do you see some influence or even reflection of one or more of your personality traits? (If you don’t know your personality type, we invite you to take our free test.)

Max, my Shih Tzu-poodle mix (at least, as far as anyone can tell) can be as stubborn and independent as I am. Max is an incredible dog and is really in touch with our daily routine. Max also knows what he wants (in his Max-y mind, that may be what he sees as the right and the fair thing to have) and will persist until he gets it. Is that because I’m telegraphing some of my similar Advocate (INFJ) traits? Maybe.

What’s your story? Does your pet reflect your personality in any way? Do you notice your companion behaving in ways that appear linked to your behavior? We’d love to read about it in the comments below.

Further Reading

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