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Does your dog have a personality? Is he as individual as you?

Yorkshire dog on a leash looking happy advice

Do dogs have different personalities?

© Unsplash

We often think of our dogs as having a personality. In other words, we think the way it acts makes it as unique and as individual as us. But are dogs really that different from each other, and are certain breeds of dog more likely to be born leaders than shrinking violets? What parameters do we use to determine whether our dog has got a personality? Read on to learn more.

By Nick Whittle

How do you describe your dog’s personality? Is he cheeky? Is he wiser as an adult dog than he was as a puppy? Does he show signs of mirroring your behaviour? Here we will look at the personality of a dog and why some breeds act differently from others.

Do dogs have a personality?

It is a question that has been asked of behaviourists, scientists and lay folk for centuries. Does a dog possess a character and a personality all of its own? We may say someone has a good sense of humour, is caring, temperamental, aggressive or gentle. But can we say the same of our dogs?

According to researchers we can because the character of the dog has been shaped by thousands of years of interaction with humans. As a result of our relationship each generation of dog has learned by degree to understand and communicate with us. Dogs are on the same wavelength as us and as such can seek from us company, shelter and food.

But what is the character of a dog? Does it vary from breed to breed, and can a dog have multiple sides to its personality? Read on to find out.

Bernese mountain dog
What kind of personality can a dog have? ©Unsplash

What are the traits of a dog’s personality?

Seven traits of a dog’s personality have been found, according to an evaluative article published by Applied Animal Behaviour Science. This paper took a look at disparate work form the past few years on canine characteristics.

The study identifies the following traits of personality:

  1. Reactivity: How a dog reacts to new surroundings and new objects
  2. Fearfulness: How a dog exhibits fear and what things (such as noise and other dogs) make it scared
  3. Activity: How some breeds of dog enjoy exercise more than others
  4. Sociability: How a dog befriends other dogs and people
  5. Training: How quickly a dog learns, how it cooperates with other dogs and people
  6. Submissiveness: How willing a dog is to take its place in the ‘pecking order’
  7. Aggression: How quick to anger a dog is and what makes it aggressive

The breed of a dog is an important factor in determining its personality. Some breeds are less inclined than others to exercise, for instance, and some are more easily angered. We’ll look at the difference of breeds in a moment.

Empathy

Empathy is generally thought of as a particularly human trait. It is the ability to understand and to feel what another person is experiencing. If you like: ‘putting yourself in their shoes’.

A marginal amount of empathy is seen of dogs. It is, of course, impossible to know exactly what a dog is feeling or ‘thinking’ but we can make an educated guess. In 2012 a study revealed the ability of dogs to react sympathetically to the mood of a person. A dog was placed in a room with its owner and a stranger. When the stranger pretended to cry the dog moved from its owner to the stranger and began to lick and nuzzle the person’s hand.

How do you describe your dog's personality?

Think about your dog’s behaviour for a moment. How does he react when you talk to him in a ‘sing song’ voice rather than a stern or deep voice? Does he react with similar noises? Does he back away when you become stern? When he is hungry, does he nudge you to make him dinner, or does he point his nose at an empty bowl?

There are many facets to how your dog acts. If you pay close attention to his behaviour you may notice recurring traits, both good and bad, that point to him having a personality all of his own. A benefit arising from your doing so is being able to tell when your dog is poorly. When a dog is sick, his usual ‘self’ may not shine through as much as usual, and that can provide you with an early warning of health problems.

To understand a dog’s personality is thus a useful aid to being a responsible dog owner. By knowing your dog you can be prepared for changes of character. Furthermore, being attuned to his ways can also help in training.

Husky dog with blue eyes
He looks like a happy dog ©Unsplash

Can dog trainers identify a dog's personality?

Reputable dog trainers make it a priority to understand the personality of a dog. They know that dogs are very often as individual as humans in their likes and dislikes, and in the way they react to their surroundings.

In order to successfully train a dog, a trainer must identify a dog’s weaknesses and strengths. Does the dog enjoy the company of other dogs? If not, why not? Does it obey orders gracefully or is it stubborn? Does the dog need to be urged to exercise?

Once a trainer has identified the basics of a dog’s personality (and usually they will do so by reference to the seven traits we mentioned earlier), they can begin to train the dog according to those traits. Sometimes, they may need to eliminate particularly dominant traits, such as aggression, altogether.

Do different dog breeds have different personalities?

Arguably, dogs are unique, but it is generally accepted that certain breeds of dog exhibit certain traits more obviously than others. Think about, for instance, a Great Dane and a cocker spaniel. They are both very different dogs, and although some facets of their personalities will be similar, others are vastly different.

The differences of personality by breed

Here are just some of the marked differences noticed of each of the main breeds of dog:

  • Herding dogs (Border Collie, German Shepherd): Exceptionally active and intelligent, these dogs require stimulation otherwise they will become easily bored.
  • Gun dogs (Cocker Spaniel, Golden Retriever): A similar personality to the herders, the gun dogs are especially happy when surrounded by a family.
  • Hounds (Greyhound, Whippet): Aloof at times, but incredibly gentle dogs, the hound is a great family pet that likes nothing more than cuddles and sleep.
  • Terriers (Bedlington, Jack Russell): Clever and independent the terrier is known for its tenacity and stubbornness.
  • Working dogs (Rottweiler, Mastiff): Intelligent and stubborn, the working dog can sometimes be a handful, and may often try to dominate its owners.
  • Utility dogs (Poodle, Schnauzer): Loyal and quick thinking, the utility dog can sometimes be manipulative. However, it is known to be a superb family pet.
German Shepherd
Personalities vary according to the breed ©Unsplash

Does your dog's personality match your own?

There is much debate every year about how some dogs look like their owners. But the results of a study published at the start of 2019 suggest our dog’s behaviour also mirrors our own.

The work revealed in the Journal of Research in Personality states that, “Dog personality may share similar characteristics to that of human personality.” The study of 1681 dogs cannot conclusively state a correlation between the personality of an owner and their dog but it finds marked similarities especially of aggression and excitability.

It is hardly surprising that a dog’s personality can be steered to some extent by the personality of its owner. If we are quick to anger, or we have a distrust of strangers our dog is apt to copy us because it is a pack animal. If we are gentle, kind and show calmness in the face of peril then our dog will follow.

It may be said then that to know our dog’s personality is to better know our own.