They say that owners can start to look like their dogs, but the similarities don’t end there. A study from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human history in Germany has found that owners with good relationships with their furry friend actually have the same personality as them.
These doting dog parents match with their pup on levels of warmth, enjoyment of outdoor exercise and selflessness with possessions.
This revealed that strong bonds were also fostered when the dog was actually more open, agreeable and neurotic than their human. The authors wrote: ‘Openness and agreeableness of the dog could represent traits which enable them to facilitate these social interactions especially well. ‘Particularly in cases where the owners do not possess these traits, they might benefit greatly from their presence in their dogs.’
Forming a functional relationship with a dog has both physical and psychological benefits for humans. However, particularly post-COVID 19 and in the current cost-of-living crisis, there has been an uptick in owners giving up their pets As well as financial reasons and no longer having the time to look after them, many former owners cite behaviour problems as their motivation.
For the new study, published this month in Elsevier journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, researchers wanted to discover what personality traits lead to positive dog-human relationships.
They hope that this could lead to potential owners buying or adopting the best dog for them, and reducing cases of relinquishment.
The study regarded a functional human-dog relationship as ‘complementary’ – where both are similarly friendly, but are opposite in dominance and submissiveness.
‘Although the combination of a dominant dog and a submissive owner appears to be challenging in practical ownership,’ the authors wrote.
A complementary relationship was found to be associated with high attachment, and therefore a longer, more caring and more fulfilling relationship.
Dysfunctional relationships, however, were marked by behavioural problems in the dogs, like aggression and separation anxiety.
The researchers analysed literature to see which personalities and attachment styles were associated with functional and dysfunctional human-dog relationships.
They found that dog personality traits that are associated with the former include energy, affection, intelligence, openness, agreeableness and responsiveness to training.
However, those that are antisocial, territorial, do not engage in training and have a tendency to destroy objects were associated with problematic relationships with humans.
In addition, neurotic and avoidant attached owners who do not care what others think of them tended to have more aggressive pets.
While one may think that it is impossible to love their pet too much, highly attached owners were found to be prone to having a dog with separation anxiety.
This was more often the case with people who are divorced, widowed or living without a child, suggesting it’s a result of a ‘humanistic orientation towards the dog’.
The authors wrote: ‘That highly attached owners often owned dogs with separation related problems might be because the owners themselves are very worried about the imminent spatial separation, which in turn creates a negative feeling in the dogs.’
Despite these findings, no owner involved in any of the 29 studies said they considered personality or attachment compatibility when getting a dog.
‘In contrast, the look of the dog was often reported to be an important acquisition motive, although cuteness as one aspect of looks is actually related to unsuccessful ownership,’ the authors wrote.
They say that those who display these traits should look for a dog with a personality that is associated with positive relationships.