Dogs Can Predict Human Personality Traits

A unique look into the relationship between dogs and their owners.

Posted Jun 06, 2015

Dogs Can Predict Human Personality Traits

Dave Mills Photography, Lancaster, CA
Source: Dave Mills Photography, Lancaster, CA

Dogs stood faithfully beside humans for thousands of years. Over the centuries, dogs established a unique relationship with humans. This symbiotic relationship developed to the point where dogs and their owners seem to share common traits[1]. Researchers examined the relationship between dogs and their owners to determine if their interaction could measure the dog owner’s personality traits using the Five Factor Model (FFM)[2].   

Five Factor Model

One of the most popular tests to evaluate personality traits is the Five Factor Model (FFM)[3]. The FFM was developed by Costa and McCrae and measures five dimensions of personality [4]. The first dimension is Neuroticism, which measures the tendency for people to experience negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, and anger. The second dimension, Extraversion, measures the tendency for people to be sociable and gregarious. The third dimension measures Openness, which measures the tendency for people to engage in intellectual activities and the willingness to try new things. Agreeableness, the fourth dimension, measures the ability of people to get along well with others. The last dimension, Conscientiousness refers to the tendency for people to be self-disciplined, persistent, and seek high achievement.

Dogs and Their Owner's Personality

The study found that dog owners who measure high on extroversion phrase their dogs more than less extroverted owners. Owners measuring high on neuroticism and openness use more gestures and verbal commands when asking their dogs to perform simple tasks. Dogs whose owners scored high on neuroticism took more time to respond to commands. The higher the owners scored on neuroticism the greater attachment they felt toward their dogs. On the other hand, extroverted owners tend to spend more time with their dogs engaging in play activities. Extroverts tend to gravitate to dogs with extroverted personalities. Extroverted dogs and their extroverted owners make more eye contact than less extroverted owners do.

Mutual Gaze

Mutual gaze is one of the most powerful relationship building techniques. Mutual gaze triggers the release of the neuropeptide, oxytocin, which gives the dog and his or her owner a sense of well-being. The sense of well-being encourages additional eye contact, setting up a cycle of mutual admiration. This same phenomenon occurs in human relationships. The downside to eye contact is that dogs beg for food more often from people who make eye contact with them than people who avoid eye contact. Human beggars use the same technique when approaching people on the street. If eye contact is made, beggars know that there is a greater probability the person will give them money. If you want to increase the probability that your dog will obey your commands, establish direct eye contact and call the dog by his or her first name.

Like Me Like My Dog

Researchers Podberscek and Serpell found that the owners of highly aggressive English cocker spaniels tend to be shy, undisciplined, less tense but more emotional unstable than people who owned less aggressive cocker spaniels.[5] Conversely, dog ownership reduces tension in anxiety prone owners.

Dogs and humans share many relationshilp building behavors. For information on how to build, maintain, and repair human relationships, refer to The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over.      

[1] Kis, A., Turcsan, B. Miklosi, A., & Gacsi, M. (2012). The effect of owner’s personality on the behavior of owner-dog dyads. Interaction Studies 13, 373-385.

[2] Turcsan, B., Kubinyi, Z., & Range, F. (2010). Personality matching in owner-dog dyads. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 6, 77-85.

[3] Furnham, A. (1996). The Big Five versus the Big Four: The relationship between the Myers-BriggsType Indicator and the NEO-PI five-factor model of personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 21, 303-307.

[4] Costa, P., & McCrae, R. (1992). Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and NEO Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI): Professional Manual. Odessa: Psychological Assessment Resources.

[5] Podberscek, A. L. & Serpell, J. A. (2000). Aggressive behavior in English cocker spaniels and the personality of their owners. Veterinary Record, 141, 73-76.