dog science

Is Your Dog’s Personality … Changing?

Photo: Thomas M Barwick INC/Getty Images

Earlier today, I was eating a small bowl of blueberries. My dog, Peter, was immediately very interested — sniffing, wagging his tail, sitting like a good boy who would like to have some of whatever that is, thank you; he’s sitting and ready, hello??

I shared my blueberries with him because we’re friends and I love him so much, obviously, but I warned him that he’s never liked blueberries in the past. Okay, just give me a blueberry please, he communicated, so I did. To my surprise and yours … he liked it!

I tell you this thrilling “tail” (dog tail) not only because it’s very captivating, but also because it is mildly connected, at least in a vague sort of way, to a new dog study that appeared recently in the Journal of Research in Personality. According to the study, a dog’s personality can change as he ages, sometimes due to training, and sometimes due to a sort of personality melding with his human counterpart.

The study looked at 1,681 dogs, from one-and-a-half weeks to 16 years old, and included 50 different breeds. It was meant to prove empirically what we’ve likely already observed in our own dogs: Puppies have different personalities than old dogs; trained dogs act differently than untrained; and, less explicitly, my dog is sweeter than most because I am sweeter than most, and also he likes blueberries now.

William Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University and lead author of the study, spoke to PsyPost about his findings. “Dogs can and do change in their personalities across life,” he said. “There are some things that owners do that might affect how they change over time.” Training and obedience classes had the strongest effects on personality, leading to more active, excitable dogs, and obedient dogs, but just being around you, and your either “terrible” or “normal” personality, can have an effect, too.

Extroverts seemed to have more excitable dogs, for example; open-minded people seemed to have dogs that were less fearful and aggressive. Neurotic people (oh no, is that you?) tended to have dogs that were more fearful and difficult to train. “We still don’t know entirely why dogs change,” Chopik said. This study focused only on comparing dogs of different ages, rather than before and after big life events, or anything else.

“There are tons of other ways that owners probably affect their dogs’ personalities, but we only looked at a few. Being active with your dog or playing with them regularly might affect their personalities, too, but we just don’t know that yet.”

Perhaps owners are affecting their dogs’ personalities by eating blueberries near them semi-regularly? A study for another day.

Your Dog Really Is Becoming More Like You