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Do Dogs Have Unique Dispositions?

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A study conducted at Bristol University by researchers has shown that some dogs are more pessimistic than others. These findings into canine psychology came from a study that looked at how dogs behaved when they were apart from their owners.

24 dogs across two dog homes were involved in the study. The researchers started the study by going to a room and playing with an individual dog for 20 minutes. The next day they went to the room, played with the dog for 15 minutes and left the dog alone in the room for 5. During the second day, a video camera was used to videotape each dog and see how they behaved when they were left on their own for the 5 minutes; with some dogs barking, destroying furniture and urinating. This footage was then used to give each dog an anxiety score.

A few days after, the researchers taught the dogs to walk to a food bowl that was full at one end of the room and empty at the other. This was so that they would know which end was which. Once the dogs had learnt which end of the room meant a full bowl of food and which end meant an empty bowl, the researchers started to place the bowl in the middle of the room. They found that the dogs that were most anxious when left on their own in the earlier tests, would slowly wander up to the bowl; suggesting that they thought the bowl would be empty. The dogs that were well behaved and less anxious in the earlier test, would run straight to the bowl when placed in the middle of the room; suggesting they had a more optimistic attitude.

Michael Mendl (head of animal welfare and behaviour at Bristol University) led the study and has stated that he believes that the findings of this study show that a ‘glass half full’ dog is less likely to be anxious when left on its own. He also suggests that the trouble a dog may cause when it’s separated from its owner may reflect deep emotional problems and that can be treated with behavioural therapy.

Whilst this study does seem to suggest that dogs, like us, are prone to having unique dispositions, it is important to think about the implications of such findings. If a dog has a certain type of view of the world, then will behavioural training really change the way it views things? Humans spend thousands of pounds on therapy to try and change who they are. Is it right for us humans to change a dog’s personality?

Of course, bad behaviours are not ideal but some experts argue that whilst behaviour is closely linked to how an animal feels, it may not be related to the animal’s unique disposition. The point that they are essentially making is that a dog who has a positive view of the world can still display bad behaviour, such as destroying furniture when it gets over-excited, and vice versa.

We here at Animal Friends are always interested to discover more about how our companions’ minds work. We feel that the long debate on whether animals show real, conscious emotion and empathy is going to be on-going for quite some time.

What are you views on this topic? Does your dog seem to have its own unique disposition? Let us know using the comments box below.

Visit our blog, article and guide pages to read more about dog behaviour. Insuring your pet gives you peace of mind that you and your pet will be covered if anything were to happen. Animal Friends offer a range of policies for dogs, cats and horses, and we also insure older pets.


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Hello, fellow animal lovers! I’m Elena, and I take care of social media for Animal Friends Insurance. I’m here to share the latest on animal welfare, our charity work and pet care. I foster and adopt rabbits and have a rescue dog called Luna.

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