How Much Do We Affect Our Dog’s Personality?

smiling woman carrying brown dachshund

Have you ever looked at a photo of you and your dog together, then get a freaky thought that you kind of look alike? You’re not alone! It’s not all that bad – provided your dog is not a hairless Chinese Crested. Of course, we know it doesn’t just end with looks. Sometimes, our dogs even act like us (or vice-versa)! They are either on a happy high, over-anxious, a lazy couch potato, neurotic, chilled out, or they are a snippity grump. It’s widely known that genetics are a key factor of personality traits within our children. But what about our dogs? Is it just our imagination, or are there scientific facts behind it?

Like Human, Like Dog – Fact or Fiction?

So, what do we know thus far about this crazy phenomenon? Well as for those creepy photos between you and your dog that take an uncanny twist of sibling-like resemblance – it’s not fiction that rooted in your imagination, and your spouse is not just picking on you. You and the dog really do bear similarities to each other!

The fact is much to the surprise of most pet owners, we actually tend to choose the pets that share similar physical characteristics of ourselves. This includes traits like: size and weight, shape of eyes and head, length of hair, etc. But it doesn’t end there! It goes on to include personality quirks as well.

Research Proves It!

There have been several studies completed throughout the years regarding how our personality and behavior affects our dogs. But it turns out our personalities as pet owners is not the sole influence! Close friends and relatives that your beloved Fido is exposed to most often, also affects their personality! That’s right… the annoying and lazy uncle Buck and persnickety sister Jane which frequently your house regularly can also affect his personality.

The most recent study regarding canine behavior traits is currently underway by Dr. Nicholas H. Doddman and Dr. James A. Serpell PhD of the Center for Canine Behavior Studies located in Salisbury, Connecticut. The study will take place over a course of two years to answer these questions and more. One of the major objectives of the study is to reduce dog euthanasia and surrender due to problematic behavioral issues by increasing our understanding in those behaviors.

Our individual personality, which defines the way in which we behave – and our emotional status – can drastically influence our dog’s personality. Canines have an extraordinary innate ability to sense our emotional state and respond accordingly – making them susceptible to our personality traits and idiosyncrasies. For example: if you’re a spastic control freak in a constant state of anxiousness, so is the dog. Whereas a laid back, easy going owner tends to have a relaxed and carefree pooch. Ultimately, you can affect these five major personality traits in your dog:

  • Openness
  • Neuroticism
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness

Changing Over Time

In April 2019, a research study published by the Journal of Research in Personality, was conducted by the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University with regards to canine vs human personality traits. What they found was that not only is a dog’s personality traits directly affected by its owner/handler, but also that their personality traits change over the course of time as they become older through age, experiences and lifestyle change. Much like humans. You might also be surprised to learn there were no correlations as to specific breeds.

In addition, the study strongly suggests an alternate positive outcome is possible for dogs that have been surrendered to shelters for ‘bad behavior’, or that have succumb to negative influences throughout the course of their lives – rather than a bleak and hopeless doomsday future. Providing dogs with owners which have positive personality traits, ultimately has the potential to change that particular canine’s personality in a positive manner.

As with humans; personality traits can greatly influence chronic illness and disease, arthritis and obesity, diabetes and heart problems over time as well. An example of how our personality traits can affect the health aspect of your dog includes diet and exercise, depression and anxiety just to name a few. For instance, an energetic and excitable canine was less likely to develop hip dysplasia and arthritis.

What does all this mean in the broad spectrum? Well simply put, you can teach an old dog new tricks! However out of the 1,681 dogs studied, outcome gave further proof that the most influential time to train is from puppyhood to middle age.

The Pro’s and Con’s to Affecting Your Dog’s Personality

These aforementioned effects on our dog’s personality can prove to be an asset in some situations, bringing a soothing comfort to us when we need it most. There is no doubt within the dog-lover community that these canine creatures can offer up a healthy dose of zen just when we have reached our breaking point. Their goofiness can make us laugh, soulful eyes convert us to tranquil babies and give us the push needed to toss a frisbee after a long day at work.

A prime example of their positive influence would be emotional support dogs. Unlike professionally trained disability service dogs used to perform specific tasks like retrieving and protecting; emotional support dogs provide unconditional love and support and require no specific training. While some emotional support dogs can be trained for just such a service, there are many where it comes natural.

On the opposite end of the spectrum however; this tendency can spell behavior problems for your dog because we – as pet owners – don’t realize how we have influenced our pets’ personalities negatively. We see this quite often in the dog training business. Unfortunately, according to the Center for Canine Behavior Studies, this ends in four million pet surrenders and 2.2 million euthanizations annually due to behavior problems.

Taking Responsibility for Our Influence

As dog owners, we need to realize that we have a direct affect on our dog’s personality, as well as both their positive and negative behaviors in most cases. Much like Children Learn What They Live by Dorothy Law Nolte PhD, we have the ability to proactively and consciously determine the course of our pet’s demeanor.

Choosing a canine companion should be the start of a fun and fulfilling life together for both you, your family and four-legged furbaby. That being said, we should give pause for self-reflection prior to taking on ownership. Our pets are like our children in that we want to them to be the best they can be. Perhaps it is said best by the old saying, “I wish I could be the person my dog thinks I am”.

Take the time to enjoy the little things in life and don’t sweat the small stuff. We could learn a lot from our dogs. Life is far too short to be uptight, stressed out or sit around playing video games all day. Put the electronics away and toss the ball or frisbee around. Maybe go for that long walk down by the lake, have a picnic in the park and smell the fresh air.



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