Dogs Have More In Common With Their Owners Than You Might Think

The bond between humans and dogs is well known, but did you know that humans and dogs age similarly when it comes to personality changes over the course of a lifetime? In October 2020, researcher and lead author Borbála Turcsán and colleagues from ELTE Eötvös Loránd University of Hungary and the University of Veterinary Medicine of Austria published a study in the journal Scientific Reports. The study analyzed the personalities of 217 border collies between the ages of 6 months to 15 years both cross-sectionally and longitudinally to determine the ages at which personality changes are most dramatic as well as the extent of the changes. They also examined personality changes within individual dogs. 

Findings indicated that, like humans, personality changes in dogs occur unevenly throughout their entire lives, but the ways these changes play out are specific to the five traits examined within the study. The five traits were sociability-obedience, or friendliness and playfulness; activity-independence, or how independently the dog moves from its owner to explore environments; novelty seeking, or how interested a dog is in new objects and environments; problem orientation, or interest and ability in solving problems; and frustration tolerance, or how easily a dog gets frustrated while problem-solving. The authors previously discussed these traits in a 2018 study, "Personality traits in companion dogs—Results from the VIDOPET," published in PLOS ONE.

Both dogs and humans make age-related personality changes throughout their lives

As reported by Psych News Daily, the study found that some traits, like activity level, remained consistent throughout the dogs' lives, and the most active dogs within the sample at the beginning of the study were still the most active dogs four years later. Problem orientation shifted during dogs' early lives, for the most part; it increases rapidly up until the age of 6, at which point it levels off almost entirely. Novelty-seeking also peaks early on, with the highest levels at age 3, while activity-independence drops as dogs transition to adolescence from puppyhood between the ages of 1 and 2. Sociability-obedience and frustration tolerance remained stable over time. 

Per co-author Friederike Range, the study fills a gap in canine research, as long-term studies of dogs' personalities are rare. Studying the same dogs for four years allowed researchers to examine stability within personalities, as well as whether dogs with certain personality types change more than other dogs. According to co-author Eniko Kubinyi, "Dogs are already recognized as a natural model for human cognitive aging, and our results suggest that similar rules govern the age-linked changes in both human and dog personality." The authors note that future studies using a more diverse sample of dogs would be particularly useful in studying canine personalities, traits, and behaviors.