Page 13

dog’s personality psychologists who study personality adopted an approach similar to that used by scientists who study intelligence. They have begun to measure a set of specific aspects of personality. We can’t call these aspects abilities, since they are behavioural tendencies (rather than skills), such as moodiness, optimism, aggressiveness, ambition, gregariousness, and so forth. Instead, these behavioural tendencies are called personality traits. The real problem in such research is to determine which specific personality traits are important and how many of them we have to consider if we would like to make meaningful predictions about the behaviours of an individual. Over the past quarter century, the research has suggested that we can pretty much describe human personality using just five traits: Extroversion is a trait that looks at how active, sociable, dominant or fun-loving a person is. Someone who is low in extroversion is likely to be retiring, passive, not very dominant and may tend to avoid social encounters. Neuroticism refers to emotional stability or emotional reactivity. People high in this trait are apt to be moody, anxious and insecure. They may worry constantly. They typically show frequent changes in their moods. People low on this trait are calm, have few major mood swings and tend to be more satisfied with life and their own performance. Agreeableness describes whether the individual is warm and pleasant, as opposed to cold and distant. Individuals who are high in this dimension also tend to be cooperative, courteous and trusting. Conscientiousness looks at whether the individual is careful or careless. People high in this trait tend to be dependable, punctual, well-organised and reliable. Individuals low on this trait tend to be

less organised, sloppy in their habits, less productive, often late and unreliable. Openness is associated with intelligence, creativity and imagination. People high in this trait also tend to be more daring, with broader interests. Individuals with low scores for this trait do not appear to be as bright or cultured; they tend to be conforming and to shy away from new experiences. In a landmark study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, psychologist Sam Gosling, from the University of Texas at Austin, and his collaborators started out with the idea that the human five-factor theory of personality could be applied to dogs as well as humans. He used the same testing and analysis procedures that psychologists employ to measure human personality and modified them so that they could be applied to dogs. The results of his work on dogs suggest that their personality structure, while somewhat similar to ours, may be simpler because it contains only four traits, rather than the five needed for people. The missing fifth trait in dogs is conscientiousness. Although we might see some aspects of this personality trait in dogs, such as the ability to focus on a task, the vast array of behaviours that define this trait — such as organisation, orderliness, a sense of time and sequence, a sense of ethics, purpose, and punctuality — don’t seem to apply to canine behaviours. Judging by the absence of neatness and discipline in the spontaneous behaviours of most dogs that I have lived with, I agree with him and believe many other dog owners will too.

Defining pooch’s personality traits The initial problem in Gosling’s research was to decide what the dog equivalents to the remaining four dimensions (extroversion,


Your Pet Magazine issue 10  

YPM issue 10 2007. Devoted to pets and their owners.