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Personality Consistency in Dogs: A Meta-Analysis

Do a dog's personality traits stay consistent over time? A look at a Department of Psychology, University of Texas, study by Samuel D. Gosling, Jamie Fratkin, David Sinn, and Erika Patall. By Claudia Bensimoun


Recent studies demonstrate that predictability of canine personality cannot be taken for granted, and many canine experts today believe that "puppy tests" measuring a dog's behavior during the first year of life, may not be quite as accurate as previously thought. In this scientific review, "consistency" means predictability of behavior. In this meta-analysis, Dr. Sam Gosling, Dr. Jamie Fratkin, Dr. David Sinn, and Dr. Erika Patall from the University of Texas discuss why predictability in dogs cannot be assumed.

From previous studies of canine personality, it appears that, to have a full understanding of canine personality, researchers need to use meta-analytic methods to quantitatively summarize the overall basis of what makes up canine personality and all the factors that influence it. Researchers expected that their meta-analysis would reveal that canine personality would be moderately consistent over time, but they found that the absolute level of consistency would vary depending on the personality dimension being assessed. They also presumed that personality in dogs would be more stable as dogs matured, thus the importance of testing during a dog's adult years, when working dogs were used for these tests and when aggregate measures were used, when shorter test intervals were used, and, finally, when the same test was administered in all personality testing. Jones and Gosling had questioned the wisdom of separating the fearfulness and reactivity dimensions, so researchers combined both traits.

Will this playful puppy's personality remain consistent through adulthood? Photo courtesy of Brenna Fender

Results

Age at First Measurement

The association between the age of the dog during the first test and the personality consistency estimate was made by categorizing estimates as to whether dogs were puppies (under 12 months) or adults (12 months old or older) during the first test. It was found that, for both age categories, consistency estimates were very much different from each other. To test the effectiveness of puppy testing even further, the researchers also examined whether consistency estimates were different between puppies first tested as puppies and then tested again as puppies with the average interval between tests being 7.84 weeks. This was compared to the testing results of puppies first tested as puppies and then later on tested again as adults, with an average interval of 47.54 weeks. It was concluded that, for both categories, testing estimates were significantly different from zero, yet were not very much more different from one another in test results.

Personality Testing in Puppies and Adult Dogs

The results demonstrated that responsiveness to training and fearfulness were very much less consistent than aggression and submissiveness but not activity, which was also very much less consistent than submissiveness, and less consistent than aggression.

Working Versus Non-Working Dogs

This result appears to demonstrate that the differences in consistency between both working dogs and non-working dogs was minimal. There was no difference in the consistency of dog personality between the two groups.

Association Between the Test Interval and the Age of the Dog

The researchers separated the test intervals and the age of the dog during the first test. They then divided the test intervals into three categories:

Short: 10-week periods
Medium: 10-24 week periods
Long: 24 w

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