Much like humans, not all dogs are the same. Obviously we know they come in all different shapes and sizes, we give them individual names, and certain breeds have distinct traits not only in terms of appearance but also when it comes to personality. Some are great with kids, some pee on the carpet, some bark, some love small flats, some love big gardens. There is no hard and fast rule and there are many factors that impact the way a dog’s personality will develop and who they will become as individuals.
The word “personality” refers to the characteristics that each individual person embodies. We all have different ways that we react to situations and in different scenarios. Some scientists and psychologists are hesitant when using this term to describe dogs or non-human animals of all species. The word used instead tends to be “temperament,” however most people and most dog owners know that our furry family members are most certainly, or at least seem to be, full of unique and distinct personality.
Personality is considered to have five categories, so we’re taking a look at each and comparing them to dog behaviour, then you can decide if you believe your dog has an individual personality, or simply a temperament.
1. Openness to experiences
This category is defined by imagination, sensitivity to our surroundings, understanding of inner feelings, the desire for variety and levels of curiosity in terms of intellect. Each human has a different set of these characteristics, with varying levels of each in their individual makeup. Some people are more curious than others, some have more active imaginations and some are more in touch with their inner selves. We believe this to be the same for dogs, all most all of whom love new experiences, variety and curiosity – although to varying degrees.
We all know that each person possesses a different style or degree of conscientiousness. Some people in high school were high achievers, writing out all of their notes repeatedly and striving toward top marks, while others couldn’t care less. Conscientious ability can manifest and different ways and be applied to different things as it basically refers to the desire to complete tasks successfully. Dogs love tasks and love completing them, and many are incredibly good at getting important things done. Take guide dogs or service dogs for example, if they weren’t fundamentally conscientious then it wouldn’t work out.
3. Extroversion and introversion
This is one of the classic things we think about when considering the personalities of the people we know, and of ourselves. Are we introverts of extraverts? Introversion tends to be associated with a tendency for solidarity or a preference for small groups while extraverts are known for high levels of energy, outgoing behaviour and chattiness. It’s not an issue of black and white, it’s more of a spectrum and we believe that dogs sit on this spectrum too, with some preferring to simply spend time with their owner and others wanting the attention of anyone and everyone.
This personality trait refers to the very distinct characteristics that we as a society have categorised as kindness, sympathy, cooperation, warmth and consideration. We tend to be very quick to notice when people possess these positive traits and fast to pick up on it when they don’t, or when they don’t display them to us. If you live with a dog or have ever known one, you’ll know that they undoubtedly possess every single one of these traits and abilities. Warmth, sympathy and cooperation come to mind most specifically.
This old foe. We all know it, the trait comprising anxiety, fear, mood swings, jealous bouts, feelings of loneliness, anxiousness and worry. Sometimes it comes on and there’s nothing we can do about it, and everyone experiences this trait and its associated feelings on different levels. The same goes for dogs. We know that some suffer from issues such as depression, that many have distinct moods and that some have issues with separation anxiety or even jealousy when we pay attention to other dogs, or people.
Despite the trend of referring to dogs’ personalities as temperaments, a reasonable amount of research has been done on this topic and there are specific traits outlined as specific to dog individuality. These include:
1. Reactivity, or how fast they react to new objects and situations
2. Fearfulness embodied in actions such as shaking and avoidance
4. Sociability, such as how they behave with not only other dogs but people
5. Responsiveness to Training, including how quickly they learn, how willing they are to learn and how well they can perform a task.
The way we see it, dogs do have personalities and they can be determined in a very similar fashion to how we categorise individual humans.
What do you think? Does your dog have a distinct personality? Do you have some fun anecdotes for us? Let us know in the comments section!
Tiahn Wetzler is a journalist, writer, editor and animal lover. Follow her on Instagram @tiahnwetzler