Are Dogs Nearly Human?


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In the new study, Milla Salonen, a canine researcher at the University of Helsinki and her colleagues wanted to assess how dog breed, socialization and training might impact behavior and how this compares with what’s seen in humans. They devised a 63-question survey for dog owners. The survey asked about health and history, fears, sensitivity to noises, separation anxiety, impulsivity and inattention, and aggression toward humans or other dogs and published results in the Journal Nature.  

Owners used a sliding scale to rate statements like “My dog barks when meeting a stranger,” “My dog hides when she hears fireworks,” or “My dog appears to be ‘sorry’ after she has done something wrong.”

Scientists sent the survey to the homes of 11,360 Finnish dogs representing 52 breeds (some not common in the U.S). They grouped the responses for each dog into the seven canine personality traits. Then they used a set of equations to assess whether dogs that tended to have the same personality traits also shared common unwanted behaviors.

Here are some of the results of the study:

There were associations between training focus and unwanted behaviors and the correlation between training focus and insecurity. Furthermore, several of these associations, including the strong association of insecurity with fear-related behaviors, were similar to associations in humans, strengthening the use of dogs as models for human behavior and psychopathology.

Based on the content of the dog personality traits and previous literature on human personality, dog personality traits seem to resemble human personality traits.

Aggressiveness/dominance describes aggressive reactions toward other dogs, and therefore, the negative correlation between these traits is not surprising. Similarly in humans, extraversion and agreeableness, both including social behaviors, correlate positively phenotypically and genetically. The negative correlation between insecurity and training focus is more interesting. Training focus was highly negatively associated with impulsivity/inattention. The same researchers previous study showed an association between fearfulness and these ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)-like traits. Insecure dogs may have difficulties focusing on training, as they likely continuously monitor their surroundings. Researchers confirmed a negative correlation between aggressiveness/dominance and training focus.

Those who may suggest breed is irrelevant are wrong. Breed mean score significantly explained variation in personality and unwanted behaviors, indicating that breed indeed influences a dog’s behavior, as confirmed in many earlier studies.

Puppyhood socialization also influenced behavior, with more socialized dogs being less insecure but more sociable and trainable. Many previous studies have also described this association between puppyhood socialization and adult behavior.

Fear of noises, aggressiveness/dominance, and training focus correlated positively with age, while energy level, general fearfulness, and sociability correlated negatively with age, as reported previously. Similarly in humans, extraversion decreases and conscientiousness increases with age, and the prevalence of anxiety disorders and ADHD decreases with age as well.

Interestingly, in general, female dogs were more fearful, and focused, whereas male dogs were more aggressive, energetic, dog sociable, and showed more separation-related behavior.And it turns out that women tend to score higher on neuroticism than men. Furthermore, according to the researchers, anxiety disorders are more prevalent in women and ADHD and aggression related psychopathology in men.

Researchers concluded many of the associations they found parallel associations between human personality and psychopathology. For example, insecurity, resembling the personality trait neuroticism, was highly associated with unwanted behavioral traits. In humans, neuroticism is the strongest predictor of psychopathology, especially anxiety and mood disorders. These similarities between dogs and humans suggest that shared genetic and neurobiological factors might underlie these behavioral traits in both dogs and humans. The conclude that the dog is a good model for both psychiatric disorders in humans and human personality.