Dog personality and how it affects their behavior

Personality refers to individual differences in characteristics patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. It might surprise you, but dogs too, have sets of behaviors that are consistent over context and time. Studies on personality help us to understand the different traits between breeds and how individual dogs behave because of their personality type. 

accessing the personality of a dog

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Types of dog personalities

In dog psychology , several broad dog personality traits have been identified. A meta-analysis conducted on a total of 51 articles on dog personality identified seven canine personality dimensions. The 7 dimensions of dog personality are:

  1. Activity
  2. Aggression
  3. Fearfulness 
  4. Reactivity (to new objects or novel situations)
  5. Responsiveness to training
  6. Sociability (to other dogs and to people)
  7. Submissiveness

Studies also show that dog breed plays an influence on the dog’s personality dimensions. For example, certain breeds of dogs are more friendly and sociable than others. 

Assessing dog personality

There are three main approaches to accessing dog personality:

By observation 

Behavior is evaluated in an environment that is not controlled, but selected. For example, the research observes the dog’s reactions to a particular stimulus. 

Dog personality test 

A set of tests is prepared and the dog’s reactions are evaluated based on a scale. For example, the dog is taught a new command to test its responsiveness to training.

By rating individual dogs 

A dog owner or person who is familiar with the dog answers a questionnaire or survey on the different types of behaviors that the dog exhibits. 

Dog personalities and owners

Just like humans, dogs too have moods and personalities that can change over time through learned experiences. One of the main influences on a dog’s personality is its owner. 

An extensive study of over 1,600 dogs from 50 different breeds demonstrated that dogs and their owners share specific personality traits. Owners who rated themselves as high in negative emotions had dogs who were more fearful and less responsive to training. Comparatively, owners who rated themselves as extroverted also had dogs who were more active and excitable. Owners who saw themselves as agreeable had dogs who were less aggressive to both humans and other animals. 

This study shows exactly how much influence dog owners have over their dog’s personalities, as well as the impact that we can have on our dogs, whether positively or negatively. 

For example, a dog who has been abused and then adopted from a shelter can become more sociable, relaxed and less aggressive when put in a loving environment where it is well taken care of. Similarly, the opposite can also occur. 

Knowing that dog personalities and their owners are related is another step to understanding dog behavior. This has great impact on dealing with dog behavior problems as well as dog training. 

Dog Breeds Personality

We think of Golden Retrievers as friendly and Rottweilers are fierce. Beagles are smart and Shih Tzus appear very regal. It seems that there are dog breeds personality, with each breed having a particular personality type. There are times however when we meet dogs who are the complete opposite of their breed stereotype.

friendly Golden Retriever

Photo by Richard Brutyo on Unsplash

Research shows that dog’s genes affect their personality and thus, their behavior. Almost every breed is predisposed to specific personality and behavior traits. 

Dogs inherit traits such as aggression, trainability, energy level, and fear of strangers. Thus, when you decide to get a dog, you can sort of expect how they would behave from their breed. However, while there is a genetic link between your dog’s personality and behavior, there are also other factors that can and will affect your dog’s behavior. 

The way you train, and care for your dog also influences your dog’s behavior. The environment in which your dog is raised will affect its personality and behavior. For example, a friendly and affectionate dog who is continuously abused will likely learn to be aggressive or become very fearful because of learned experiences. 

As dog owners, we need to be aware of our pet’s natural predispositions. Nonetheless, we should not blame their behavior on their breed as almost all dogs can be trained. 


Your dog’s personality is influenced by its breed as well as the environment in which it lives it. Dogs’ personalities and behavior are also very much shaped by their owners, with many dogs reflecting their owner’s personalities. As such, dogs can be trained to behave well, despite their natural predispositions.