Dogs Have Personalities That Reflect Their Owners, New Study Says

Dogs have personalities that can change due to their circumstances and surroundings, just like humans.

A dog and its owner looking out over a lake
Seaq68 / Pixabay

Dogs have personalities that can change due to their circumstances and surroundings, just like humans.

Dogs have personalities that can change due to their circumstances and surroundings, Salon is reporting. Just like humans, a dog’s personality can change as they age as well as be affected by their owner’s personality. Adding more material to the “nature versus nurture” debate, it looks like dogs will turn out more like the humans around them depending on how they are raised. For instance, if an owner was more extroverted, their dog was observed to be very outgoing as well. If the owner was more timid and anxious, the dog was found to be a little nervous.

Researchers at Michigan State University published a new study in the Journal of Research in Personality and gathered evidence that proved what many dog-lovers already know — dogs not only have distinct personalities, but also have tons in common with humans.

“When humans go through big changes in life, their personality traits can change. We found that this also happens with dogs – and to a surprisingly large degree,” said William Chopik, professor of psychology at Michigan State University and lead author of the study. “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.”

Researchers surveyed owners of over 1,600 dogs about their personalities and the personalities of their pets. This grouping of 1,600 dogs consisted of 50 different breeds, with around 50 percent of those breeds being purebred. The researchers were able to identify three different correlations: how a dog’s age affects their personality, how a dog’s personality affects the relationship with their owner, and similarities between the dog and their human owner.

Chopik believes that studying dog’s personalities can help us to not only better understand the personalities of other species, but also give humans more insight on how to retrain a dog that has been abused or traumatized.

“Say you adopt a dog from a 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. The dog then might become a little more relaxed and sociable,” Chopik said. “Now that we know dogs’ personalities can change, next we want to make strong connection to understand why dogs act — and change — the way they do.”

The study does note, however, that they’ve identified the best age to retrain a dog — if the dog is around 6-years-old, its personality can do a complete 180. This age is old enough for a dog to be out of its excitable and aggressive puppy stage, but not old enough for the dog to be too set in its ways. A senior dog was found to be the hardest to train, proving the old adage true: you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.