I came across one of these online quizzes and was so happy to be the same as a Golden Retriever (I didn’t even try to skew the answers)!! It got me thinking - how similar would you say you and your dog are? I would like say I’m pretty similar to mine in personality (happy to meet new people, friendly, good-tempered), and when I think of friend’s and family’s dogs I think they are also similar in personality too. Does this mean that sometimes, personality clashes can occur between people and their pets?
In our lives, we all suffer from personality clashes at some point – like meeting a friend of a friend who is incredibly annoying although you just can’t explain why. As for animals and personality, there are a number of studies that show how different animals can vary – from ants to elephants. Personality is the consistent pattern of feeling, cognition and behaving within an individual. Whenever behaviourists assess an animal, they take into account the breeding, genetics, motivation and individual temperament. Can personality clash therefore happen between people and dogs? I am sure that a factor in some difficult behaviour problems is when there is a mismatch of personality between people and their pets. A quiet, calm, introverted person is much more likely to be embarrassed by a boisterous, energetic dog leaping round and barking when compared to someone who is also loud and rambunctious. Conversely, a chatty busy person may find it hard to understand a dog who needs their own space and may get irritable and snappy when around people all the time.
Different personalities may also forgive different behaviours – I’ve heard people chuckle if their dog growls and say ‘oh, he’s just being a grumpy old man’; whereas a different owner may perceive this as completely unforgivable. The difficulty comes when the owners put the dogs in situations which are difficult for them to cope with, which would seem perfectly fine to them from their own world view. A busy mum who takes her children on the school run and enjoys socialising at the gates may take her dog with her to be sociable. However, a quiet and reserved dog may not enjoy these encounters and so becomes more and more stressed, eventually ‘disgracing’ himself by growling or snapping at a child. Alternatively, a shy and meticulous man might get extremely frustrated with an overenthusiastic hairy dog who jumps up to greet and lick and say ‘hello!’ to all of his visitors when his owner expects him to wait patiently in his bed. This is why I don’t agree when people always blame the owner. Their handling of the situation might need to be tweaked, but a mismatch of personalities can cause a big rift between man and dog.
Of course, different breeds have different characteristics depending on what they were bred for – the stereotypical chocolate Lab is boisterous, greedy and happy when compared to a more reserved and dainty Lhasa Apso, but looking at the individual means that there may be dogs that don’t always fit these breed traits. This is why it is so important for people to look at breed characteristics when choosing a puppy or rescue dog to see whether they will fit into their daily routine and lives, but to also know that this isn’t rigid and to see whether the actual pup itself is suitable. Perhaps reflecting on this if you encounter training or behaviour problems will help understand why a dog is doing it - and potentially why you are getting so frustrated!