My late cockapoo, Connor, constantly responded to my state of minds, voice, and facial expressions. Because I understood this, I had fun with it. Before our early morning stroll, I’d take a look at him with a massive smile and state, “We’re going for a walky-walk!” — and he’d speed himself off the sofa and run complete speed to the door. Other times, I put music on and danced around the room, and he’d sort of dance together with me, putting his front paws on my thighs to recover me. When I forgot myself around him and snapped at something, yelling or frowning or gritting my teeth, he ended up being so tense that he’d go to my other half for convenience.
I are sorry for the latter minutes, particularly given that current research study reveals that dogs are acutely knowledgeable about their owners’ state of minds. Just how mindful? The response is stunning.
Do dogs design human habits?
Research reveals that dogs show and might be seriously impacted by their owners’ mindsets and actions. In a 2021 study from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, detectives discovered that dogs with habits issues that were registered in an intervention program were exceptionally impacted by their owners’ characters and their degree of accessory to their owners, with both aspects playing a substantial function in whether the dogs’ habits enhanced or stopped working to enhance throughout the program.
“This study observed the effect of owner personality on dog behavior,” says animal behaviorist Stanley Coren, PhD, teacher emeritus in the department of psychology at the University of British Columbia. “The bottom line is that dogs respond to the environment around them, and that is basically determined by the owner.”
What are the “Big 5” characteristic of dogs?
The scientists checked each dog utilizing the C-BARQ (Canine Behavioral Assessment & Research Questionnaire), a reputable, standardized behavioral examination tool. In addition to determining the level of dog-owner accessory, the scientists checked the owners for what psychologists call the “Big 5” characteristic, the most basic measurements of character. These are:
- extroversion — whether the individual is outbound and friendly versus singular and shy
- agreeableness — whether the person is warm, cooperative, and thoughtful
- conscientiousness — whether the individual is arranged and dependable
- neuroticism or mental illness — whether the person is nervous and moody
- openness to experience — to what degree the person wonders, creative, and intellectually versatile.
One of the essential findings worried the owner’s openness to experience, according to Penn Vet animal behaviorist James Serpell, PhD, the developer of the C-BARQ and a co-author of the research study. “This personality trait is associated with people who are open to new ideas, not conservative, and those owners’ dogs showed significant improvements over time,” notes Dr. Serpell. “That makes sense, since if they’re going to a veterinary behaviorist who is telling them the possible source of their dogs’ problems, and giving them new ideas about how to handle those problems, people who are open to new ideas would respond positively and have a positive effect on the animal.”
“Really, the key dimension of openness is intelligence, with some creativity stuck in,” says Dr. Coren. “Intelligent people poke around and get info and have new experiences, and they listen to new ideas. They have the best chance of positively affecting their dog’s behavior.”
Can a dog parent be too conscientiousness?
For Dr. Serpell, the most unexpected finding was that the dogs of owners scoring high in conscientiousness had less success in the treatment program. “You’d think that a conscientious owner would be really likely to comply with the treatment suggestions and do all the things required to manage their dog’s behavior appropriately, so you would see the biggest improvements,” says Dr. Serpell. “But instead, they show less improvement in stress and directed aggression over time and in some cases, their behavior got worse.”
One possible description is that exceptionally diligent individuals might display a type of territoriality, desiring whatever around them to be so, and not desiring anybody to strike what their conscience informs them is right. They may therefore behave in certain ways with others that encourage the dog to show territorial aggression toward unfamiliar individuals.
“Conscientious people are often really organized, and they may set a rigid plan for behaviors,” says Dr. Coren. “Things have to go in a systematic way for them, and bringing a dog into it may disrupt their organized lifestyle. They can’t tolerate chaos, and they’re not willing to modify their preexisting plans.” The dog might sense all of this and feel negativity and a kind of rejection.
What is the best personality for a dog owner?
In addition to openness, the best owner traits for dogs appear to be agreeableness and extroversion, notes Dr. Serpell. “Generally speaking, it’s owners with an agreeable, sociable personality, who get along well with other people,” he says. “Their dogs tend to do well.”
Furthermore, extroverted owners are more likely to see decreases in their dogs’ fearfulness and touch sensitivity (being uncomfortable with petting, etc.) than introverted owners do. “Extroverts like noisy, people-filled environments, so their dogs sensitize to those environments,” and tend to become sociable and outgoing like their owners, says Dr. Coren.
How does a neurotic owner impact a dog?
Conversely, introverted and neurotic owners, those who are shy and retiring and somewhat anxious, have more problems with their dogs. “That may be due to circumstances beyond their control,” says Dr. Serpell. “If they have an empathic dog, one who is very attuned to them, the dog is going to pick up on their anxiety and perhaps respond to it in a bad way.” These owners should do their best to be as outgoing and calm as possible for their dog’s sake. “But of course, people with those particular personality types may find that very difficult,” says Dr. Serpell.
“We know that if kids grow up in a stressful environment, they are much less likely to form healthy attachments to other people in their lives,” Dr. Coren points out. “The same goes for dogs. Previous research has shown that owners who are high in neuroticism have dogs with stress-related problems.” Dr. Coren recalls a famous British dog trainer who would talk about how anxiety is “transmitted down the leash,” so to speak.
In fact, we know that people who suffer from high stress have higher levels of the major stress hormone cortisol, and a study in Scientific Reports found that owners with higher cortisol levels have dogs with higher cortisol levels, too.
An even more alarming finding emerged from the UPenn study. “It really had more to do with mental health than personality,” says Dr. Serpell. “We found that men with depression are five times more likely to use confrontational and coercive training methods with their dogs in response to behavior problems. This certainly suggests that if you’re a depressed man, getting a dog may not be the best thing for you or for the dog.”
Dr. Coren agrees. “Some research shows that people who are the most aggressive and antisocial have vicious dogs. And as one psychologist told me, ‘If I have to prescribe Prozac to a dog, somebody has already prescribed it to the owner.’” Depressives can be clingy and suffocating to their dogs, and at the same time, if depression is strong enough, they often may be very inward-focused, and inattentive to what goes on in the dog. “I think some people shouldn’t have dogs, in the same way that some people shouldn’t have kids,” he adds.
The Bottom Line on Personality Types and Dogs
Given all this research, it makes sense to look closely at yourself not simply before you get a dog but also after you’ve gotten one. If you’re having issues with your dog, maybe it’s not her fault. “If you find yourself punishing your dog for relatively trivial misdemeanors, if you’re being abusive, it’s time to consider your own psychology and think, ‘This is not normal, I shouldn’t be behaving like this. Maybe I need therapy,’” says Dr. Serpell.
The golden key to dealing with dogs, says Dr. Coren, is the vast research showing the average dog basically has the cognitive abilities and emotional development of a two-and-a-half year-old child. “If the way you’re treating him is inappropriate for a two-and-a-half-year-old human, it’s inappropriate for dogs.”
“Generally, if you treat your dog the way a toddler with limited language should be treated, rewarding good behavior, ignoring bad behavior, and using punitive measures as little as possible, you’re going to wind up with a very good dog,” includes Coren. “If someone has the mental capacities and social skills to raise a toddler successfully, they have the wherewithal to raise a dog successfully. I think the vast majority of people have these skills.”
A variation of this post appeared in our partner publication, Inside Your Dog’s Mind.