Not all dogs are happy or optimistic, according to research that used a type of dog personality test to assess optimism and pessimism in working dogs. Here’s how to learn if your dog is happy, pessimistic, or optimistic.
Speaking of dogs – The Life and Love of Dogs by Lewis Blackwell offers hundreds of incredible images of big and little, happy and sad, furry and hairless, active and chill dogs by acclaimed photographers from around the world. This book includes a surprising analysis of the qualities that make a dog attractive in our eyes and a detailed look at how the breeds we see today are a product of our own needs and desires.
When I wrote What Your Favorite Dog Breed Reveals About Your Personality, I didn’t know that some dogs are pessimistic and some dogs are optimistic – and all dogs have positive and negative emotional states that can be measured.
In this article, I summarize a study that gave dogs personality tests to determine how happy they are. Actually, these researchers measured positive and negative emotional states in dogs to with the training and placement of working and service dogs.
What Research Says About Dog Personality Tests and Happy Dogs
Your dog has good and bad moods. “The remarkable power of this is the opportunity to essentially ask a dog ‘How are you feeling?’ and get an answer,” says Dr Melissa Starling, from the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney. “It could be used to monitor their welfare in any environment, to assess how effective enrichment activities might be in improving welfare, and pinpoint exactly what a dog finds emotionally distressing.”
I already knew my dogs Georgie and Tiffy are happy some days, and grumpy others. My most accurate test is how they respond to other dogs, kids, and humans when we’re out hiking the forest trails of North Vancouver. Sometimes my dogs are perfectly friendly and open to meeting other creatures; other times, they bark and growl and throw their weight around. Luckily, they’re small dogs so not much weight gets thrown.
A dog’s positive and negative emotional state changes daily. According to this veterinarian, certain dog personality tests can measure positive and negative emotional states objectively and non-invasively. This test offers researchers and dog owners an insight into a dog’s perspective and how it changes during the course of a day.
Can you answer the “is my dog happy?” test at home? Let’s find out…
This dog personality test involved sounds and treats. Dogs were taught to associate two different sounds (two octaves apart) with whether they would get the preferred reward of milk or instead get the same amount of water. Once the dogs learned the discrimination task, they are presented with ‘ambiguous’ tones.
Optimistic dogs respond to ambiguous sounds. If dogs respond after ambiguous tones, it shows that they expect good things will happen to them, and those dogs are called optimistic. They can show how optimistic they are by which tones they respond to. A very optimistic dog may even respond to tones that sound more like those played before water is offered.
If you were to give your dog this personality test at home, you’d need to first train your dog to respond to different sounds. When she knows which sound equals a treat and which one equals water, you then play an ambiguous sound. If she responds, you know you have a happy dog. This personality test for dogs takes time and patience!
Dr Starling said that while the dogs they tested were more optimistic than pessimistic overall, it is too early to say if that is true of the general dog population. That means that not all dogs are more likely to be optimistic – or happy. This research gives both dog owners and institutions (kennels, dog sitters, dog walkers, veterinarians) a much more accurate insight into the emotional make-up of their dogs.
Is Your Dog Happy?
Optimistic, happy dogs take risks and expect good things. I assume an optimistic dog is also a happy dog – and that this dog personality test helps uncover both. You might call your dog happy if she expects more good things to happen, and less bad things. Happy, optimistic dogs take risks and try to gain access to rewards. Optimistic dogs pick herself up when things don’t go her way, and tries again. Minor setbacks don’t bother her.
Pessimistic dogs, on the other hand, expect bad things to happen. This may make this dog more cautious and risk averse. He may readily give up when things don’t go his way, because minor setbacks distress him. He may not be an unhappy dog per se, but he is likely to be most content with the status quo and need some encouragement to try new things.
“Pessimistic dogs appeared to be much more stressed by failing a task than optimistic dogs,” says Dr Starling. “They would whine and pace and avoid repeating the task while the optimistic dogs would appear unfazed and continue.”
This doesn’t mean that a pessimistic dog isn’t a good working dog. A pessimistic dog that avoids risks would be better as a guide dog because his cautious nature would keep his companion safe. An optimistic, persistent dog would be more suited to detecting drugs or explosives because she’d keep sniffing those suitcases in an airport, even if she only smells drugs or explosives once a year. I’m not sure about a cancer sniffing dog, though.
I don’t need a dog personality test to know my dog Georgie is a happy dog. She is constantly snubbed by my other dog Tiffy, yet she keeps trying to organize a play date! In the dog park she optimistically runs up to dog owners who look like they’re reaching into their pockets for a treat, and sits patiently at their feet. Tiffy is more pessimistic, definitely grumpier, and a bit of a bully.
Is your dog happy – and do you need a dog personality test to find out? I welcome your thoughts below…
Source: Dogs can be pessimists too, press release from the University of Sydney.