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Do Dogs Become More Like their Owners?

They say that dog owners start to look like their pets but could dogs actually develop personalities which mirror their owners’?

I had a good laugh when watching an episode of The Supervet recently. A particularly shaggy dog was being treated at Fitzpatrick Referrals and when it’s owners appeared in the footage, both boasted hairstyles remarkably similar to their pet’s! There have also been one or two episodes of this show featuring obese animals where I allowed myself a little giggle when the owners turned out to be as portly as their pooch!

But could dogs become more like their owners, at least in character if not in matters of personal style? A recent study suggest that they can.

Austrian Research

During a recent study in Austria, 132 dogs and their owners underwent a series of tests including heart rate monitoring and measurements of their responses to threats. Saliva samples were also taken to measure cortisol levels which are a key indicator for stress.

The owners were assessed for the five indicators of personality: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness. The personalities of the dogs were assessed via questionnaires and experiments which tested their responses to stressful situations such as being separated from their owner and being approached by a stranger wearing a mask.

The Partnerships

The study was carried out by researchers at the University of Vienna and revealed that dogs and owners were influencing each other’s coping mechanisms but that the humans in the partnerships were more influential than the dogs. Humans and dogs form social dyads and will influence each other’s reaction to stress.

Dogs are sensitive to human emotion and will mirror these emotions. If the owner is anxious, their dog becomes anxious, if the owner is relaxed their pet will become less stressed. But the dogs can also help their owners to feel more relaxed in a stressful situation.

How Pet Owners Influence Their Pets

The research indicated that dogs can become more highly strung if they have neurotic owners. The dogs which had the most nervous owners were less able to cope with perceived threats. It was discovered that the owners’ personalities had a greater influence over a dog’s reaction to stressful situations than the dogs’ own personalities. Relaxed owners generally had relaxed pets.

It is clear that the relationship between a dog and its owner is a complex one and one which has a huge bearing on the stress levels of both the animal and the human. If you have a dog, keep calm!


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