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Our furry canine companions don’t just have the mental capabilities of a toddler, which include a large vocabulary and the ability to strategize, they also have a great ability to read their owners – facial expressions, body language, and emotions. This has allowed our best friends to comfort us when we’re down or rejoice with us when we’re happy. Now, science has determined that dogs also respond, and adjust, to an individual’s underlying personality, which can affect how well the dog does with training.

Veterinarians, scientists, and researchers have been interested in learning how to help the large number of dogs (and cats) being relinquished to animal shelters every year. With behavioral problems being cited as the top reason why dogs and cats are given up by owners, according to The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, or NCPPSP, researchers have been studying the role of the pet owner in relation to the behavior of the dog (or cat).

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The recent 2021 study, published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science, chose dogs who had been referred to the University of Pennsylvania and the Behavior Medicine Service associated with the Ryan Veterinary Hospital, where they received a physical and behavioral exam and subsequent behavioral diagnosis. The goal of this study was to learn about any associations between training results, owner personality, owner-dog attachment, and canine demographics. The researchers also wanted to determine the usefulness of the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire, or C-BARQ, as an evaluation and diagnostic tool, since the C-BARQ is used extensively in determining canine behavior.

“Almost nothing is known about how treatment success is influenced by the characteristics of the owner,” said University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s Lauren Powell, researcher and lead author of the study, according to NBC News.

A previous study connecting a dog’s behavior and the owner’s personality showed the owners of English cocker spaniels were more likely to have aggressive dogs if their personality was emotionally less stable, shy, tense, or undisciplined. A 2015 study about the same topic associated an increase in separation-related behavior in dogs when the owners portrayed insecure-avoidant attachment personalities. And further still, a 2020 study using a variety of dog breeds with diverse behavioral backgrounds found neuroticism in the owners had the biggest negative impact on the dogs’ behavior.

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In the latest 2021 study, scientists and researchers wanted to study the behavior of dogs before and after going through a behavioral training program, while also collecting detailed data on the dog owners. University of Pennsylvania researchers provided owners with a behavioral treatment plan and followed up with them at timed intervals over a span of six months. Owners were given a variety of questionnaires to fill out, which included the C-BARQ – a 100-item questionnaire, historically used to measure canine behavior.

The study, published in Frontiers of Veterinary Science, found that the age, sex, and weight of a canine, self-reported dog-owner bond, and owner’s personality were all associated with training outcomes, either good or bad.

“Extroverted owners were more likely to see improvements in dogs’ fearful behaviors and introverted owners less so. Introverted owners may find it tough to leave their dog or give it space if it is required as part of the dog’s treatment,” said Powell, according to NBC News.

Though the results of this study line up with the findings of other previous studies, U of Penn researchers noted the study had several limitations. Questionnaires are only as good as the answers given, which rely on the owners’ personal assessment. And studying data results from a treatment plan only works if the owners follow through on the treatment plan. The study did find, however, the C-BARQ to be a useful diagnostic tool.

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Professional dog trainers and researchers have previously shown that training techniques can have an impact on your dog’s behavior. Studies have also shown positive training techniques to elicit more positive outcomes, resulting in more desirable behaviors, according to Psychology Today.

When it comes to keeping pets out of the animal shelters, canine studies may help dog owners understand how a dog behaves, responds, and communicates with his owner. Science has reported dogs can read humans; it’s up to humans to read dogs, as well, to build and maintain a harmonious relationship. Expert positive trainers, such as Victoria Stilwell, suggest learning about the basics of our furry friends – their senses, body language, vocal language, emotional expressions, cognition, and play behavior – to begin a healthy relationship with your dog.

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