All Things Dog

Understanding Your Dog's Personality

While some scientists have dismissed the idea of distinct pet personalities, recent studies prove what owners have always known—dogs really do have their own individual personalities.

Research by University of Texas at Austin psychology professor Sam Gosling showed that pure and mixed breed dogs can be accurately classified using four basic personality dimensions: intelligence, energy level, anxiety level, and affection. Borrowing methods used in standard human personality testing for his canine research, Gosling also found that these distinct personality traits often vary with breeds.

Instinct influences personality

Why is Fido so friendly, Chloe so clever or little Pepe perpetually on alert? Selective breeding accounts for part of the answer. Over the centuries, dogs have been bred to perform certain tasks and functions, and those instinctive behaviors persist.

If your curious beagle is constantly sniffing around the backyard, it's probably following scent, which is part of this hunting breed's natural instinct. Herding is in the DNA of shepherds and shepherd mixes—so when your dog circles the kids protectively, he can't help himself. And a terrier, bred to relentlessly root out rats and other underground animals, might display stubborn or strong-willed qualities.

While instinct is a powerful determinant, dogs also take cues from an owner's personality—friendly, secure dogs, for instance, often have calm owners, while dogs that are easily frightened might have anxious owners.

Training and personality

Understanding your dog's individual personality, as well as the dominant qualities of its breed, can be very helpful in training. It might be difficult, for instance, to teach a quiet or reclusive dog to be your gregarious running companion or to turn a natural scent-tracker into a watchdog. Every dog has its unique qualities and lovable quirks, and working with your dog's natural traits can make training much easier.

Shy or outgoing, dominant or submissive, energetic or easygoing—knowing what makes your dog tick is the first step in creating a healthy relationship that works for both of you.

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