Dog personality: His master’s traits

In the first study of personality differences among dogs, psychologist Samuel D. Gosling of the University of Texas at Austin and his colleagues have found that certain personality traits differ as much among dogs as they do among people.

If further studies confirm the presence of distinctive canine personalities, it could enable researchers to investigate the genetics and development of personality traits in many mammals, Gosling’s group concludes in the December 2003 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The researchers devised a 34-item canine personality survey for dog owners to fill out. It focuses on four traits–energy, cooperativeness, emotional sensitivity, and a mix of intelligence and curiosity. Human personality surveys probe for similar traits.

Gosling’s team instructed 78 dog owners to rate their own personalities and those of their pets. Dogs belonged to a range of breeds and almost half were mutts. Each owner identified a friend who also judged the personalities of the owner and his or her dog. As it turned out, owners and their friends closely agreed on both sets of personality ratings.

Owners then interacted with their pets at a dog park, where three observers who had no prior contact with the animals judged each dog’s personality. Once again, these ratings largely coincided with those of owners.

Personality ratings by groups of strangers who saw only pictures of each dog bore little resemblance to ratings by those who knew the animals or observed their behavior.

The findings indicate that personality traits long studied in people also pertain to dogs, the researchers say.


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Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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