breeds of dogs

What does your choice of dog say about you?

Are certain kinds of people drawn to certain kinds of dogs? According to a study presented recently at a British Psychological Society conference, the answer is yes. The breed of dog you own may reflect your personality.

Researchers Jo Fearon and Lance Workman believe that certain personality types may be subconsciously drawn to certain breeds of dogs. For their study, the researchers had a thousand dog owners complete a questionnaire that assessed five personality traits: agreeablenessextroversionconscientiousnessemotional stability, and openness. They also asked which breed of dog each person owned. After crunching the data, they determined that people with certain personality traits were more likely to own certain breeds of dog.

They divided dog breeds into seven groups:

  • Gun dogs (spaniel, pointer, Weimaraner, golden retriever)
  • Hounds (beagle, dachshund, greyhound, Rhodesian ridgeback)
  • Working dogs (boxer, Great Dane, Doberman, Rottweiler)
  • Toy dogs (Chihuahua, Yorkie, pug, Pomeranian)
  • Utility dogs (Dalmatian, bulldog, poodle, schnauzer)
  • Pastoral dogs (German shepherd, collie, heeler, corgi)

Among the findings: Pastoral and utility breeds were often owned by people who ranked high on extroversion; toy dogs and gun dogs were owned by agreeable and conscientious people; hound dog owners were emotionally stable. Apologies to working dog people: the press release about the research said nothing about working dogs and their owners. You will have to draw your own conclusions.

I immediately checked to see whether my personality (based, perhaps inaccurately, on my own self-assessment) “matches” my breed choices. I have a pointer-mix, who falls into the category of gun dogs. According to the study, owners of gun dogs rank high on agreeableness and conscientiousness. This fits—I am very agreeable and annoyingly conscientious. Of course, this personality-dog breed matching is very much like the newspaper astrological forecasts: no matter what it says for Libra, it always seems to fit.

This may strike you as a rather silly way for professional psychologists to spend their research time. And there is a great deal of overgeneralization and stereotyping in this study that we might criticize. For example, although some people actively choose a particular breed, it certainly isn’t always that obvious. In my case, although I was certainly attracted to Maya when I went to look at the litter of 10 week old pointer-mix puppies—who wouldn’t have fallen in love with a little white sausage with a brown head?—it was really my husband who wanted a pointer. I just wanted a dog, period, and would have been happy with any kind at all. And my husband’s choice was based more on cultural preference than personality: as a Nebraskan who grew up hunting pheasants, the gun dog breed held a strong nostalgia for him.

Sometimes, of course, we don’t choose the dog; they choose us.

STILL, I think there are also some interesting things to be gleaned from this research, and other work in the field of psychology that explores how and why people choose the pets they do. One interesting question is why certain personality types might be drawn to certain breeds. It raises questions not only about individual preferences, but also about beliefs and assumptions about certain dog breeds, and perhaps also cultural preferences. For example, are Hispanics really more likely to own a Chihuahua, or is this just a cultural stereotype? Are rich old ladies really own more poodles than the average Joe? Are tough guys more likely to own a pit bull than a Yorkie?

Research of this sort is important because it reminds us that people and their dogs can be more or less well-matched, and the better a match, the more likely a successful and long-term relationship. We should choose dogs based on our and their personality, and seek a compatible mix. Dog personality can be assessed using the same basic five-point personality profile that our esteemed psychologists used in this study, and potential dog owners should not assume that all dogs of a particular breed are going to be the same. Different breeds have what you might call a “temperament profile” and this is valuable information for someone thinking about dog ownership. Before you get a Vizsla, for example, you might want to know that they need a great deal of exercise and get a bit nutty if cooped up; they have a tendency toward anxiety. But each Vizsla will be unique, too. Ody had his own unique blend of neuroses, loves, fears, and desires.

People and their dogs need to be compatible in terms of personality and lifestyle. Dogs too often wind up in shelters because their temperament or lifestyle needs were mismatched with their owner’s. For example, a very high energy dog is less likely to thrive in a home with sedentary people than with an active family. It sometimes happens that people are drawn to a breed because of its looks or reputation, but the temperament of the dog may not “fit.”

As I read this study, some other questions came to mind:

Can our choice of dog highlight or change certain aspects of our personality? For example, I tend to be rather introverted. If I adopted a utility dog would it make me more extroverted?

What about appearance? Are people attracted to dog breeds that somehow mirror their physical look? (Well-groomed lady with well-groomed poodle; Muscle Mike with muscle-bound Doberman)

If you took 10 dogs and their owners and mixed them up, would a group of experimental subjects be able accurately to match the dog with their owner?

What kind of person is attracted to the mutt?

Originally published on Psychology Today and republished here with the kind permission of the author, Jessica Pierce, Ph.D.

Author’s Books on Amazon

The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Livesblank

Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Petsblank

Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possibleblank

Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animalsblank

The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Ageblank

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Bioethicist and writer Jessica Pierce, Ph.D., is the author of Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets (Chicago, 2016) and The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the Ends of Their Lives (Chicago, 2012). Additional authored and co-authored books include Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible (New World Library, release date of Feb. 6, 2019, with Marc Bekoff), The Animal's Agenda: Compassion and Coexistence in the Age of Humans (Beacon Press, 2017, with Marc Bekoff), Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals; Contemporary Bioethics: A Reader with Cases; The Ethics of Environmentally Responsible Health Care; and Morality Play: Case Studies in Ethics. Some of the questions she explores in her writings on death and dying in animals are: Do animals have death awareness? Why is euthanasia almost always considered the compassionate end point for our animals, but not for our human companions? Is there ever a good reason to euthanize a healthy dog? Why do people often grieve more deeply for their pets than they do for people?