Researchers in Finland have studied how dogs’ personality differs between breeds, as well as looking at other factors that make up distinctive personality traits.
Among many other things, they found that dog breeds such as bull terriers were the most social with people and that golden retrievers had the lowest stamina.
A major new study from the University of Helsinki looked at the different factors that influence a dog’s personality. Researchers observed over 11,000 dogs in 300 breeds, including 52 different dog breed groups. This is the largest study to date on how dog breeds differ and some breeds have never been studied before.
The study examined seven personality traits in dogs: insecurity, training focus, aggression/dominance, energy, social contact with other dogs and social contact with humans, and stamina.
– All dogs are individuals, and all breeds have different traits, but the breeds differ in what kind of personality most dogs within each breed have, says Postdoctoral Researcher Milla Salonen.
For example, the Shetland Sheepdog showed the highest mean value for insecurity while different types of bull terriers showed the lowest values in this personality trait. Parson Russel Terriers showed the most energy and sheepdogs had the lowest energy. Miniature pinschers had the most stamina and golden retrievers the least.
The dog breeds that were most social with people were bull terriers and the least social were herding dogs. When it comes to dog sociality, Finnish Lapphunds had the highest score while Border Collies had the lowest.
Genetic and environmental factors
However, breed alone does not determine the personality of a dog, according to the researchers. The study also looked at other factors, both genetic and non-genetic, that can influence a dog’s personality.
Among environmental factors, the study found that the puppy stage played a major role in the development of the dog’s personality in adulthood. Among other things, it could be seen that if a puppy had more social experiences, it was often later less insecure and showed less aggression/dominance. There was also a higher degree of training focus and increased socialization with both humans and other dogs.
– Our findings indicate that new owners should familiarize their puppies as much as possible with unfamiliar people, places and animals. Of course, socialization must always be done on the puppy’s terms, which means that the puppy must not be forced into frightening situations, Salonen says.
Dogs’ personalities also differed slightly between the sexes. Females were more often insecure, had a higher training focus and were more social with people. Male dogs had higher mean scores in aggression/dominance, energy and dog sociality. The study also found that neutered dogs showed more insecurity and less training focus compared to un-neutered dogs.
Older dogs often showed less insecurity but also less energy, while being less social with both dogs and humans. Training focus also increased with age.
Similarities to humans
Who the owner was also played a role in the dog’s personality. For example, first-time dogs, that is, dogs whose owners had never owned a dog before, were more insecure than dogs whose owners had owned five or more dogs before. Training focus was also highest among dogs whose owners had five or more dogs, while it was lowest among second-time owners. If a dog received at least three hours of physical activity per day, it also had a higher training focus than dogs that received less than one hour of physical activity per day.
The amount of time the dog had to spend alone also played an important role in training focus. The dogs that only spent around one hour alone per day had significantly higher training focus compared to the dogs that needed to be alone for up to eight hours a day.
However, even if differences between various factors could be seen, they accounted for only a small part of the variation in personality traits between individuals, which may also indicate that a larger part of a dog’s personality is highly genetic.
– Based on our research, personality traits are extremely complex and have astounding similarities between dogs, humans and other animals, Salonen says.