January 20, 2004
Dogs Have Personality Types Obvious To Owners And Strangers

Owners and strangers were separately asked to classify individual dogs by personality traits and came to similar conclusions.

The traits, which are also found in humans, have positive and negative extremes - for example, dogs could be rated as energetic, slothful or somewhere in between. The other traits were affection-aggression, anxiety-calmness and intelligence-stupidity.


In total, 78 dogs of all shapes and sizes were tested. In general, owners and strangers agreed on an individual dog's personality. This suggests that the dog personalities are real, says Gosling.

Of course there is a biological basis to personality differences in humans and in dogs. Yes, even strangers can size up a dog and tell you how affectionate or calm or smart the dog is. But now this has been demonstrated scientifically.

Many scientists resist the idea that animals have different unique personalities.

The research, conducted with the help of 78 dogs and owners who were recruited at a dog park in Berkeley, Calif., found the animals' personality traits could be judged with an accuracy comparable to judgments made about humans' personality traits.

"The findings ... suggest a conclusion not widely considered by either human-personality or animal-behavior researchers: Differences in personality traits do exist and can be measured in animals," says the research paper by Samuel D. Gosling, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin; Virginia S.Y. Kwan of Princeton University; and Oliver John of the University of California, Berkeley.

Gosling says that many researchers are reluctant to believe that dogs have distinct personalities. The mind boggles. Do personality researchers as a group have an aversion to dogs? Have they no experience with owning a variety of dogs who have very distinct personalities? It is amazing what obvious truths even have to be proved by science.

While some dogs and some human children behave poorly as a result of a lack of training or due to abuse many others are just plain determined to be aggressive or defiant or highly motivated to achieve some goal regardless of any adult human supervision. That dogs have unique traits just as humans do is obvious to anyone who has considerable experience with multiple dogs. Even within a breed there is considerable variation though less variation than is found between breeds.

The demonstration that dog personalities can be classified is useful for enabling the search for genetic variations that influence personality. It strikes me, however, that the 4 traits used are inadequate for describing all genetically-based variations in dog behavior. For instance, dogs vary in their instinctive like for water and for retrieving and they many other ways that obviously have genetic bases. The wide range of extremes of dog personalities due to the development of so many breeds for different purposes provides fertile ground on which to search for genetic factors that influence personality and behavior.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 January 20 02:03 AM  Biological Mind

speedwell said at January 21, 2004 1:33 PM:

Oh, any cat owner knows this :)

Canadian Headhunter said at February 9, 2004 5:09 AM:

I've been preparing a posting on key indicators of personality that are visible during interviews and the first three traits I decided to measure for are, essentially, the exact same as for the dogs (though not in the same order)

1. Friendly, 2. Relaxed, 3. Lively, 4. Formal, 5. Articulate

Mr. Jupiter said at May 10, 2004 10:37 PM:

A dog is like a kid. Cats are a dime a dozen.

Kid Doing Research said at May 2, 2005 1:37 PM:

This is like the Enneagram which has nine personality types and could be applied to animals. Look it up!

Ginger Whaley said at May 3, 2010 3:52 PM:

My sister and I both have a Maltese that were litter mates. Molly, who belongs to my sister is hyper, bites children, barks(at everything)and she is hilarious! Kyli, who belongs to me is like a pacifist. Molly will try to play rough and she has just now gotten to where she will play more; but she had rather be sleeping!!

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