It’s well established that humans with certain personality traits are more likely to exhibit certain problematic behaviors, and new research indicates that the exact same pattern can be observed in dogs. Appearing in the journal Translational Psychiatry, the study implies that canines may experience mental health issues that are highly similar to our own, and that dogs might therefore provide a model for studying human psychopathology and personality.
In spite of our complexities, research has shown that humans have just five major personality traits: extroversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and openness. These characteristics can be used to reliably predict mental health, with neuroticism in particular being strongly linked to anxiety and other forms of psychopathology, while conscientiousness is negatively correlated with attention deficit disorders.
Dogs, meanwhile, are thought to possess seven different personality traits. These are insecurity, energy, training focus, aggressiveness/dominance, human sociability, dog sociability, and perseverance. However, until now it was not known if any association between personality traits and unwanted behaviors exists in dogs as it does in humans.
To find out, the study authors sent questionnaires to the owners of 11,360 dogs in Finland, examining the link between pet pooches’ personalities and 10 unwanted behaviors.
These negative habits included such things as noise sensitivity, separation-related behavior, fear of surfaces/heights, and fearfulness, which were grouped together under the category of “fear-related behavior”. A second group of behavioral traits, labeled “fear-aggression”, included actions such as barking and stranger-directed aggression, while hyperactivity and impulsivity contributed to the latent behavioral trait dubbed “impulsivity/inattention.”
“Aggression” represented the fourth and final behavioral category, and consisted of owner-directed, dog-directed, and stranger-directed aggression.
After analyzing the responses of dog owners, the researchers concluded that dogs’ personalities are closely linked to their behavior, and that these associations are remarkably similar to those seen in humans. For instance, dogs with a high score for the personality trait insecurity were the most likely to exhibit unwanted behaviors, mirroring the connection between neuroticism and psychopathology in people.
“The insecurity trait was very similar to the human neuroticism trait, with a high score in both indicating negative emotions such as anxiety and worry,” write the study authors. “Similarly, training focus paralleled the human conscientiousness trait; both were characterized by, for example, self-control and evenness.”
Just as conscientiousness is linked to reduced risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), training focus in dogs was negatively correlated with impulsivity/inattention. Other similarities between humans and hounds included an increase in anxiety and fearfulness among females, and higher levels of inattention in males.
In both species, general fearfulness and sociability were found to decline with age, while focus and attention move in the opposite direction and are enhanced as the years go by.
Summarizing their findings, the study authors state that “dog personality traits resemble human personality traits,” and that “similarities between dogs and humans suggest that shared genetic and neurobiological factors might underlie these behavioral traits in both dogs and humans.”
Bases on these conclusions, they go on to propose that “the dog is a good model for both psychiatric disorders and human personality.”