Study sheds new light on how dogs’ personalities can change over time

New research suggests that dog owners can shape the personality of their pets. The findings appear in the Journal of Research in Personality.

“Our lab studies how people and their relationships change across the lifespan. In thinking about the pets we’ve had in our lives, we realized that they’ve changed pretty considerably too since we first adopted them. We also realized that dogs vary pretty dramatically in their personality and this might be important. So we went about empirically testing some of these ideas,” said William Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University and lead author of the study.

The researchers surveyed 1,681 dog owners about their pet’s personality, health and behavior. The dogs ranged in age from 1.5 weeks to 16 years old, and included 50 different breeds. The owners also answered a survey about their own personalities.

“Dogs can and do change in their personalities across life. There are some things that owners do that might affect how they change over time. For example, training/obedience classes had the strongest effects on personality — dogs were more active/excitable and followed your orders more often,” Chopik told PsyPost.

The researchers also found that dogs that were more active/excitable, younger, and female tended to have fewer chronic health conditions.

The personality of the owners was also associated with the personality of their dogs. Those high in extraversion tended to have dogs that were more active/excitable, while owners high in agreeableness, conscientiousness, and open-mindedness tended to have dogs that were less fearful, more active/excitable, and less aggressive toward people and animals.

More neurotic owners tended to have dogs that were more fearful and also less responsive to training.

“We still don’t know entirely why dogs change. Our study was cross-sectional, so we only compared dogs of different ages rather than how their personalities change from before to after a life event (e.g., like being adopted). So there needs to be more studies doing that kind of research,” Chopik said.

“There are tons of other ways that owners probably affect their dogs’ personalities, but we only looked at a few. Being active with your dog or playing with them regularly might affect their personalities too, but we just don’t know that yet.”

The study, “Old dog, new tricks: Age differences in dog personality traits, associations with human personality traits, and links to important outcomes“, was authored by William J. Chopik and Jonathan R. Weaver.