No wonder they’re man’s best friend! Study finds dogs’ personalities often end up mimicking their owners’ traits as they change over time
- Study surveyed owners of 1,600 dogs about their own personalities and pets’
- Found dog’s personalities changed, tapping into ‘nature vs nurture’ concept
- The study also found dog owners reported similar traits in their pets to their own
It’s said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But, when it comes to personality, it seems dogs continue making progress throughout their lifetime.
A new study has found that dogs’ personalities may change over time – and even tend to line up to match their owner’s.
The findings upend previous assumptions that dogs’ personalities are generally unchanging due to the overall stability of their lives.
A new study has found that dogs’ personalities may change over time – and even tend to line up to match their owner’s. Stock image
HOW DID HUMANS DOMESTICATE DOGS?
A genetic analysis of the world’s oldest known dog remains revealed that dogs were domesticated in a single event by humans living in Eurasia, around 20,000 to 40,000 years ago.
Dr Krishna Veeramah, an assistant professor in evolution at Stony Brook University, told MailOnline: ‘The process of dog domestication would have been a very complex process, involving a number of generations where signature dog traits evolved gradually.
‘The current hypothesis is that the domestication of dogs likely arose passively, with a population of wolves somewhere in the world living on the outskirts of hunter-gatherer camps feeding off refuse created by the humans.
‘Those wolves that were tamer and less aggressive would have been more successful at this, and while the humans did not initially gain any kind of benefit from this process, over time they would have developed some kind of symbiotic [mutually beneficial] relationship with these animals, eventually evolving into the dogs we see today.’
According to the researchers, the results suggest dogs experience personality changes similar to how humans do over the course of their lives.
‘When humans go through big chances in life, their personality traits can change,’ said lead author William Chopik, professor of psychology at Michigan State University.
‘We found that this also happens with dogs – and to a surprisingly large degree.
‘We expected the dogs’ personalities to be fairly stable because they don’t have wild lifestyle changes [like] humans do, but they actually change a lot.
‘We uncovered similarities to their owners, the optimal time for training, and even a time in their lives that they can get more aggressive toward other animals.’
In the study led by Michigan State University, the researcher surveyed owners of more than 1,500 dogs.
This included 50 different breeds, with both male and female dogs aged just a few weeks to 15 years old.
Dog owners were given questionnaires about their own personalities as well as their dogs’, the researchers say.
And, this revealed some similarities.
‘We found correlations in three main areas: age and personality, in human-to-dog personality similarities and in the influence a dog’s personality has on the quality of its relationship with its owner,’ Chopik said.
‘Older dogs are much harder to train; we found that the “sweet spot” for teaching a dog obedience is around the age of six, when it outgrows its excitable puppy stage but before it’s too set in its ways.’
Humans with extroverted personalities tended to rate their dogs as excitable and active, while dog owners with higher rates of negative emotions were more likely to rate their dogs as fearful and less responsive to training.
Agreeable dog owners were often found to have dogs that were less aggressive towards both animals and people.
It’s said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But, when it comes to personality, it seems dogs continue making progress throughout their lifetime. Stock image
According to the researcher, the findings tap into the idea of ‘nature versus nurture’ – a concept commonly used in the discussion of human personality.
In future studies, Chopik plans to focus on the effect a dog’s home environment can have on its behaviour.
‘Say you adopt a dog from the shelter. Some traits are likely tied to biology and resistant to change, but you then put it in a new environment where it’s loved, walked, and entertained often,’ Chopik said.
‘Now that we know dogs’ personalities can change, next we want to make a strong connection to understand why dogs act – and change – the way they do.’