Nature vs. Nurture: Does Your Personality Rub Off On Your Dog? - Hobbster

Nature vs. Nurture: Does Your Personality Rub Off On Your Dog?

One of the things that’s always amused me about being a dog owner is in the uncanny ability of some dogs to seemingly mirror their owners' personalities, (and sometimes vice versa). Is this simply breed predisposition, or do dogs truly take on some of the characteristics of their human companions? I’m certainly not an expert on the matter, but looking at available research and insights, this blog post attempts to look at some aspects of the fascinating interplay between nature and nurture in the shaping of canine personalities, and whether or not they’re influenced by how we behave.

Scientific Evidence of Mirroring

The concept of canine personality-mirroring their owners is inconclusive, and whilst our view of a dog’s experience of emotion is largely observational rather than directly measurable, this idea isn't entirely anecdotal. A 2012 study published in Science Direct, ‘Applied Animal Behaviour Science [AABS] 2012’, investigated potential correlations between specific owner traits and their dogs' behaviour. But because there have been relatively few studies on the relationship between human and dog personality types, without some kind of agreed cross-species approach for comparing both there are many questions that still can’t be answered.

The ‘similarity-attraction’ hypothesis (Elaine Hatfield et al, 1966) on human interpersonal attraction suggests that the more similar two individuals are the higher the attraction between them with the perception of a lower risk of conflict and disagreement (Byrne 1971, Byrne et al 1967, Barelds and Barelds-Dijkstra 2007, Morry 2005).

With us humans having established relationships with dogs over thousands of years, if the ‘similarity-attraction’ hypothesis affects normal relationships, it could also influence our dog breed choice, for e.g. someone who is active and outgoing may well end up choosing a breed naturally predisposed to displaying similar energetic traits that the owners find appealing.

However, the AABS study also acknowledges the inherent complexity of the issue and couldn’t definitively answer the question of - does the owner's personality influence the dog's behaviour, or does a dog's natural temperament subconsciously influence the owner's choice of breed or lifestyle?

The Power of Emotional Contagion

Dogs possess a remarkable ability to not only pick up on human emotions, but seemingly also share similar emotional responses, for e.g.

  • Reading human cues: Dogs are incredibly observant creatures. They can pick up on subtle cues like facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and even scent to understand our emotional state.
  • Mirroring emotions: Once they understand our emotions, dogs can exhibit similar emotional responses. For example, if you're feeling stressed and tense, your dog might become clingy or restless. Conversely, a happy and relaxed owner might have a dog that mirrors that calmness.
  • Studies utilizing fMRI scans, measuring minor changes in blood flow that occur with brain activity, reveal that dogs can process emotions in similar brain regions as humans do when experiencing the same emotions, and exhibit corresponding emotional states (Gregory Berns, neuroscientist at Emory University). This emotional intelligence allows dogs to mirror their owners' moods in a profound way.

This phenomenon, known as 'emotional contagion', creates a feedback loop, potentially reinforcing certain personality traits across both the human and dog.

Shaping Personalities Through Daily Interactions

Our daily routines and interactions also significantly influence our dogs' behaviour. An owner who takes their dog for frequent walks and play sessions is more likely to have an energetic and playful dog. Conversely, an owner with a more sedentary lifestyle might end up with a calmer, lower energy companion.

Training approaches also play a crucial role. Owners who utilize positive reinforcement methods, which focuses on rewarding desired behaviours making them more likely to be repeated, tend to have more confident and well-behaved dogs, compared to those using harsher training techniques. Positive reinforcement builds trust and encourages desired behaviours, fostering a more positive and outgoing personality in the dog.

Confirmation Bias

Some owners may subconsciously project their own personality traits onto their dogs, regardless of the dog's own true nature - is the perceived personality match real or simply a reflection of the owner's perspective of their own personality?

An owner might then just focus on their dogs perceived personality traits and behaviours that support their own hypotheses whilst overlooking clear evidence to the contrary.

One way to combat this is to seek the input of alternative sources such as friends, family, fellow dog walkers, anyone who knows the owner well enough to get their objective perspective on the similarities between owner and the dog.

Age

There have been studies that show some emotional convergence over time between people who live together, are married, have long-term relationships (Anderson et al), so it may be reasonable to assume the same convergence between dogs and humans. But dogs age faster than us which could disproportionally change the nature of relationships over time, and, like humans, their personality changes as they get older, so your dogs’ personality now may not be the same in 5 or 10 years.

A Rhodesian Ridgeback vs his owner: personality traits

Those of you who’ve read any of my blog posts know I have a Rhodesian Ridgeback, Hobbes, who is the inspiration behind the Hobbster website. When shortlisting the breed I was considering bringing into my life I spent a bit of time looking at their generic personality profiles, so in my case the Ridgeback's natural temperament certainly influenced my choice. Whether, and where we actually have matching personalities or not [and who has influenced who!] I’ll leave to the people who know us both best to decide, but I can certainly relate to number 5!!…

  1. Loyal and Devoted – They form strong bonds with their families and are fiercely protective of their loved ones. They thrive on companionship and enjoy being included in activities.
  2. Independent and Intelligent – Are resourceful and problem-solvers, adaptable, requires mental stimulation.
  3. Dignified and Calm – They carry themselves with a sense of nobility, self-assuredness, reserved, and independent.
  4. Protective and Courageous - Naturally protective of their territory and family, will stand their ground, controlled confidence.
  5. Strong-Willed and Playful - Can have a stubborn streak, but they also possess a playful side and enjoy interactive games and activities.

Here are some other general examples of breeds matched to personality types, but remember, every dog is an individual so these may not apply to yours…

  • Active and Outgoing: Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, Jack Russell Terrier, Vizsla, Weimaraner
  • Calm and Introverted: Basset Hound, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Greyhound, Pug, Bulldog
  • Family-Oriented: Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Beagle, Bichon Frise, Poodle
  • Independent and Free-Spirited: Shiba Inu, Whippet, Miniature Schnauzer, Siberian Husky, Akita Inu
  • Meticulous and Organized: Miniature Schnauzer, German Shepherd Dog, Poodle, Whippet, Japanese Chin

Do you agree with the personality types listed above. Do you and your dog show similar personality characteristics?

The Enduring Bond: A Reciprocal Relationship

The human-dog bond is special. Whilst the science is still evolving, it appears that both genetics and our interactions may play a role in shaping our canine’s personalities.

By understanding our own personalities and choosing the right breed, we can create a harmonious and fulfilling relationship with our four-legged reflection.

This reciprocal relationship, where we influence our dogs and they, in turn, influence us, is what makes the human-canine bond so unique and enduring.

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