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Scientist proves what we already knew

An article (subscription required to view) in The Economist a while back may be of interest to dog lovers. I have placed a comment (in...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Mar 6th 2008


An article (subscription required to view) in The Economist a while back may be of interest to dog lovers. I have placed a comment (in italics) in the text.

Animal personalities are as clear-cut and distinctive as human ones

SOMETIMES it takes science a while to prove the obvious. Any dog owner could tell you that dogs have personalities, and could describe that of their own pooch. And to be fair to the science of animal behaviour, that would also have been true of any researcher in the field 70 or 80 years ago. But the creed of behaviourism, which began to take over the subject in the 1930s, eschewed such sentimentality. In an attempt to bring rigour to the field, animals were thought of as machines (which, in a sense, they are). [What? Is the author serious?] The analogy, however, was pushed too far, and became doctrinal rather than merely useful. The study of personality differences between individual animals dwindled.

Samuel Gosling, however, is one of a generation of behavioural scientists who not only recognise animal personality, but are reviving the study of it, as he explained to the AAAS meeting. Dr Gosling, who works at the University of Texas, in Austin, studies dogs and hyenas, as well as people. Both dogs and hyenas are social carnivores. And both, he has shown, have lots of personality.

The article goes on to describe the experiments. Dr. Gosling and his team extensively interviewed people about their furry friends’ behaviors. In the end, the researchers were able to sort out some key traits of personality that differ between dogs.

The researchers identified four principal dimensions of canine personality. They are sociability, emotional stability, affection, and “competence” (which is a mixture of intelligence and obedience).

I agree with The Economist that the study was an exercise in proving the obvious. That said, when I consider my friend Buster (currently sitting at my feet), there is no doubting his sociability and affection!