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Your Dog’s Personality Can Change Over Time

You won’t live with a rambunctious goofy teenager forever.

by Caroline Brooks
February 27, 2019
a brown puppy and a dog of different ages sit with person on grass
Photo: Thirdman / Pexels

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When you spend extra time scratching your dog’s belly, or taking your dog out for long walks and games of fetch, or even when you feel constant frustration over their chewing habits, you are gradually shaping your pup’s personality. Dogs, like people, have moods and personality traits that shape how they react in certain situations. A dog’s personality plays a big part in their life: researchers found that a dog’s personality will influence how close they feel to their pet parents, their biting behavior, and even chronic illness. But, their personality is not a constant; it will change as they grow. Here’s what you might expect from your pup’s personality changes.

How much does a puppy’s personality change?

Researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) found that puppy personalities change quite a bit as they leave adolescence. “When humans go through big changes in life, their personality traits can change. We found that this also happens with dogs — and to a surprisingly large degree,” says lead author William Chopik, professor of psychology at MSU.

“We expected the dogs’ personalities to be fairly stable because they don’t have wild lifestyle changes humans do, but they actually change a lot. We uncovered similarities to their owners, the optimal time for training, and even a time in their lives that they can get more aggressive toward other animals.”

Researchers surveyed pet parents of more than 1,600 dogs, including 50 different breeds. Dogs ranged from just a few weeks old to 15 years and split closely between male and female. The extensive survey had pet parents evaluate their dog’s personalities and answered questions about the dog’s behavioral history. Pet parents were also asked to answer a survey about their own personalities.

“We found correlations in three main areas: age and personality, in human-to-dog personality similarities, and in the influence a dog’s personality has on the quality of its relationship with its owner,” says Chopik.

“Older dogs are much harder to train; we found that the ‘sweet spot’ for teaching a dog obedience is around the age of six, when it outgrows its excitable puppy stage but before [they’re] too set in [their] ways.”

How do pet parents influence their dog’s personality?

One trait that rarely changes with age in dogs is fear and anxiety. Homing in on the saying, “dogs resemble their owners,” researchers showed dogs and pet parents share specific personality traits. Extroverted humans rated their dogs as more excitable and active, while pet parents high in negative emotions rated their dogs as more fearful, active, and less responsive to training. Pet parents who rated themselves as agreeable rated their dogs as less fearful and less aggressive to people and animals.

The pet parents who felt happiest about their relationships with their dogs reported active and excitable dogs, as well as dogs who were most responsive to training. Aggression and anxiety didn’t matter as much in having a happy relationship, says Chopik.

“There are a lot of things we can do with dogs — like obedience classes and training — that we can’t do with people,” he says. “Exposure to obedience classes was associated with more positive personality traits across the dog’s lifespan. This gives us exciting opportunities to examine why personality changes in all sorts of animals.”

These findings prove how much power humans have over influencing their dog’s personalities. Chopik explains that many of the reasons a dog’s personality changes result from the “nature versus nurture” theory associated with humans’ personalities. “Say you adopt a dog from a shelter. Some traits are likely tied to biology and resistant to change, but you then put it in a new environment where it’s loved, walked, and entertained often. The dog then might become a little more relaxed and sociable,” says Chopik. “Now that we know dogs’ personalities can change, next we want to make a strong connection to understand why dogs act — and change — the way they do.”

Source: Michigan State University Content may be edited for style and length. Original Study DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2019.01.005

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Caroline Brooks

Caroline Brooks was the communication manager for Michigan State University.