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How do our own characteristics affect our pets? A recent study says it may have more of an impact than previously thought.

By Hilary Braaksma
February 04, 2021
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cute dog giving kisses to happy woman
Credit: Dann Tardif / Getty

A recent study from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that owner personality may actually shape the results of behavioral training for their dogs. The results suggest that—at least to some extent—our own traits may have some influence on the behavior of our four-legged friends.

Researchers invited 131 pooch and parent duos to a six-month behavior program. Each pet owner was asked to provide information about their own personality and their dog's behavior. The questionnaires were provided at the beginning, middle, and end of the study.

Questions for the humans in the study covered a number of characteristics. Each participant reflected on their own personality traits across broad categories, like whether they are introverted or extroverted, or if they're open to new experiences. The dog portion of the assessment asked for information about trainability, fear, attachment, and the dog's reactions to strangers, owners, and other dogs.

Of the 131 dog and human pairs who started the study, 75 finished. From that data, researchers discovered that along with factors like age, sex, and size, owner personality had a bearing on how well dogs reacted to behavioral correction. And while there are several limitations to the study—including the low number of participants and uncontrolled variables such as socialization and training history—there are still a few interesting points worth noting.

For instance, the dogs of introverted and extroverted pet parents seemed to fare differently over the course of the behavior training program. "Extroverted owners were more likely to see improvements in dogs' fearful behaviors and introverted owners less so," Lauren Powell, the lead author of the study, told NBC News. The report says that extroverts may have had better results because of their tendency to be "enthusiastic, responsive to social stimuli, and value a high volume of social interactions." On the contrary, introverted people may have been more reserved, less likely to seek social stimulation, and therefore less eager to create valuable socialization opportunities with others. 

The authors also note that owners with higher levels of openness saw lower levels of fear from their pups after the program was completed. This willingness to try new things, they theorize, may have meant that pet parents were open to using modern training ideologies and tools before participating in the study (like positive reinforcement techniques like clicker training). Dog owners who scored lower in openness may have relied on outdated training methods (i.e. force and positive punishment), which have been associated with increased fear in dogs.

No matter what your own personality quirks may be, there are plenty of resources to help you and your pup learn healthy habits together. Dog behavior experts like a canine behavior consultant or a certified professional dog trainer can help you and your pooch develop a positive reinforcement training plan to help the two of you navigate the world safely together.