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Canine Personality Types — Myth or Reality?

Canine Personality Types — Myth or Reality?

For a doggie-centric lesson on why you shouldn’t always trust advice given by “experts” (be they of the self-appointed or certified variety), try this easy three-step exercise:

1.  Google “canine personality types”;

2.  Record the number of different (and inconsistent) canine personality-type paradigms that are discussed in just the top-three search results; and

3.  Record the total number of scientific studies cited in these results.

Depending on your personality type (see what I did there?), the results should either stagger you or induce uncontrollable laughter.

Why? Because the purported “experts” don’t remotely agree with each other. Depending on which of them you ask, your dog could fall into one of the “six basic personality types,” or one of the “four main personality types,” or even be classified according to an “alpha, beta, and omega” differentiation.

Moreover, none of the “experts” will identify any data which empirically confirms the reliability of their paradigm or the test used to classify dogs within it.  Instead, they will all claim that their “years of experience” demand that you trust their diagnoses, even though their diagnostic test amounts to a dozen or fewer hard-to-confirm, yes-no questions (example: “My dog and I understand each other with simple eye contact”) and even though their diagnoses take the form of broad, sweeping (and often ridiculous) generalizations (example: “These dogs … choose to move through life, trying not to create a fuss”) that require you to adopt myopic, misguided, and often anthropomorphic views about the nature of your dog’s personality.

If you rely on this hogwash, you deserve whatever you get.  Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

On the other hand, modern science actually does have some interesting things to say about canine personality types.

An understanding of your dog’s personality can be a very useful bit of information.  To the extent that dogs differ in how they view and react to the world, knowing how your dog’s mind is oriented can help you to predict and avoid problematic behaviors, condition desirable behaviors more effectively, avoid inflicting unnecessary psychological pain, and identify activities that please and excite the dog.  It can also help identify the societal role that your dog is best-suited to play, be it a household companion or a law enforcement K-9 operative.

Recent studies conducted by researchers at Australia’s Monash University suggest that canine personalities can be measured and classified in what they call “valid and sensible” ways.  Using the results of adjective-based questionnaires submitted to thousands of diverse Australian dog owners and several different statistical analyses, the researchers distilled canine personalities into five essential elements: extraversion (excitability, energy level, activeness), motivation (assertiveness, dominance, tenaciousness), training-focus (attentiveness, obedience), amicability (aggressiveness), and neuroticism (fearfulness, sensitivity, cautiousness).

The original Monash Canine Personality Questionnaire (published in 2007 ) was even revised in 2009 to address methodological critiques from the scientific community.

Unfortunately, unlike popular human personality classification tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the MCPQ-R is not a test that spits out a clear-cut answer about how your dog is oriented — accordingly, unlike with Myers-Briggs, literature aimed at interpreting and predicting the behavior of the different MCPQ-R types has yet to be published. Instead, at this point, the primary utility of the MCPQ-R seems to come from testing populations of dogs — such as dogs adopted from rescue shelters — to determine the degree to which life circumstances impact overall personality.)

For a canine personality test that will actually give you useful data about how your pup is oriented and how to use that information, check out the Canine Behavioral Assessment & Research Questionnaire developed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.  The 100-question survey takes only 10-15 minutes to complete and it will (a) show you how your dog stacks up against statistical averages in various behavioral categories and (b) offer advice on how to manage your dog’s specific personality.

Happy testing and have a great weekend!

– Coach Dan

1 Comment

  1. Nathan says:

    Canine personality is a tough thing to gauge, because we live in a world with a different set of rules. For example, it is difficult to know whether your dog is anxious because he/she has an anxious personality or because something in his/her life is causing anxiety. It might be something that isn’t obvious too! Overall, just a tough subject to cover – thanks for the questionnaire though!

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