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Why Do Dogs Imitate Their Owners? Vet-Verified Habits, Facts & FAQ

Written by: Visnja Radosavljevic

Last Updated on June 12, 2024 by Dogster Team

Maltese dog likes the owner to show him his tongue to imitate him

Why Do Dogs Imitate Their Owners? Vet-Verified Habits, Facts & FAQ

VET APPROVED

Dr. Maxbetter Vizelberg  Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Maxbetter Vizelberg

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you’re a dog parent, you’ve likely noticed your dog imitating or mimicking one or more of your behaviors at some point. Most dog parents find this quite cute, as their beloved pet is displaying similar personality traits to their own. But why does this happen? Why do dogs imitate their owners?

While multiple factors affect your dog and the way that they behave, one of the biggest reasons dogs imitate their owners is that they are pack animals. However, there are other factors that we discuss in this article.

Being pack animals means dogs have natural instincts to observe and behave like the leader of their pack, which in this case, is you. So, for dogs, imitating comes naturally, and it’s not something that they can really control.

Keep reading to learn more about dogs imitating their owners, why such behavior occurs, and which habits dogs tend to adopt most often.

Research on Dogs Imitating People

dog owner using laptop
Image Credit: SpeedKingz, Shutterstock

A study from 2010 about automatic imitation in dogs was an interesting experiment showing how imitation is something that dogs typically can’t prevent.1 The study followed 10 adult dogs and their owners. Each dog went through training to open a sliding door using their paws or head after watching their owner use one of the two options to perform the same task.

The researchers divided the dogs into two groups:

  • The first group received a treat if they copied their owner.
  • The second group received a treat if they didn’t copy their owner.

Although one group of dogs was supposed to get treats for doing the opposite from their owners, those dogs were also mimicking their human companions. These canines did the same movement as their owner, even knowing they wouldn’t get a treat afterward, which shows that dogs have a tendency to automatically mimic our behaviors, regardless of other factors.

A study from 2019 showed that dogs can also model the personality traits of their owners.2 While people mostly pick their dogs based on personality, it looks like our canine friends are somewhat capable of tuning their personalities to our own.

The researchers came to this conclusion after the owners in the study had to do the “Big Five Test,” which included rating their and their dog’s personalities in five categories:

  • Neuroticism
  • Extraversion
  • Openness
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness

Every owner ranked their personality similar to the ranking of their pet, which shows that their personalities became somewhat alike—or that’s at least how they felt.

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So, Why Does Your Dog Keep Imitating You?

As mentioned, dogs are pack animals, so they’ll do whatever it takes to fit in. While dogs observe us as leaders of their pack, they also want to be our friends and companions, which they may try to prove by acting like us.

Due to their nature, dogs will likely observe you and try to follow through with the same actions. As long as such behavior isn’t harmful, there’s no need to discourage your dog, and you can benefit from this imitating habit.

How Can I Take Advantage of This Behavior?

Dogs learn by observing and repeating, which is one of the reasons that they mimic people so frequently. Luckily, you can use the mimicking your dog does to your advantage, especially when learning new tricks.

If your dog likes to imitate you, try to show a behavior or an action during training instead of saying a command or giving hand signs. When teaching your dog to sit, try sitting on the ground to allow your dog to pick up and mimic the behavior. If you want to teach your canine to shake hands, use your hand and make a hand-shaking gesture.

Your dog will learn faster once they see the action from you, and the training will be far more efficient.

Habits That Dogs Adopt From Their Owners

While dogs can mimic many types of human behavior, there are certain things that many dogs adopt from their humans. Most of the habits that dogs pick up are intuitive, and our canines are simply adapting to life with us.

Here are a few of the most common habits that our furry friends adopt from us.

Sleeping

Woman and dog sleeping
Image Credit: meruyert gonullu, Pexels

While dogs typically sleep more during the day than at night, they can easily adapt to your sleeping schedule. This change is especially noticeable for people who allow their dogs to share their beds. Those dogs tend to switch to more nighttime sleeping, when they typically feel more content, comfortable, and secure.

Talking

Some dogs are naturally vocal and like to express themselves by barking and making different sounds. If vocal dogs spend a lot of time near their owner and the owner likes to speak to them, the canine will likely bark back to answer.

If you positively react to your canine-human “conversations,” your dog will likely follow through and “talk” to you frequently.

Eating

If you adjust your dog’s eating schedule to your personal eating schedule, your dog will likely start to get hungry at the same time you do. Due to this, it’s important to make a routine and feed your canine friend at the same time every day to avoid unwanted behaviors.

Exercising

Dogs need daily walks and exercise to blow off steam and remain healthy. If you have a particular exercise routine you practice with your dog, they will get used to it and probably expect it every time. It’s not uncommon for dogs to get sad or aggravated if they’re used to exercising every day, but one day, you don’t have the time to take them exercising.

Displaying Emotions and Traits

owner teaching dog a high five
Image By: Olena Yakobchuk, Shutterstock

It’s also common for dogs to mimic emotions from their human companions. When you’re excited, your canine will probably get excited too. Or, if you are sad, your furry friend can also seem sad.

Canines pick up on our emotions and they frequently mimic how we feel. For example, if you’re affectionate, your dog might become affectionate too. However, this also counts for stress and anxiety. People who are anxious or go through a lot of stress will likely transfer the same feelings to their dogs.

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Final Thoughts

Dogs imitate their owners for multiple reasons, though it’s primarily because they’re pack animals and they go through something called automatic imitation. While your pet imitating you may be cute, you should ensure that they are performing safe activities.

As long as the imitation is safe, you can allow your dog to try to act like a “mini you,” and you can use the behavior to your advantage when teaching new tricks to your canine.


Featured Image Credit: Banedeki, Shutterstock

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