February 2, 2017

Audience: Executive Leadership, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Organization: Center for Canine Behavior Studies
Investigator(s): Nicholas Dodman and James Serpell
Grant Amount: $10,000
Project Type: Basic Research
Project Status: Research Complete

Project Summary

The Center for Canine Behavior Studies explored the effects of owner personality and mental health on dog behavior and owner's choice of training methods. Overall, the study found significant associations between 4 of the 'Big Five' human personality traits and the prevalence of some canine behavior problems, and a strong association between male owner depression and the use of aversive/punitive training methods. However, there was little evidence that training methods are the primary mechanism for influencing behavior.


To investigate if the effects of owner personality and psychological status on dog behavior; to assess if effects are accomplished via the owner's choice of training methods.


The hypothesis was investigated using a self-selected, convenience sample of 1,564 current dog owners using an online set of questionnaires designed to measure owner personality, depression, emotion regulation, use of aversive/confrontational training methods, and owner-reported dog behavior, respectively. Statistical analysis was accomplished through the use of multivariate linear and logistic regression models.


  • The study found modest, positive associations between an owners' use of aversive/ confrontational training methods and the prevalence/severity of the following dog behavior problems: owner directed aggression, stranger-directed aggression, separation problems, chasing, persistent barking, and house-soiling.
  • Data showed modest associations between owners' low scores on 4 of the 'Big Five' personality dimensions (Agreeableness, Emotional Stability, Extraversion & Conscientiousness) and their dogs' tendency to display higher rates of owner-directed aggression, stranger-directed fear, and/or urination when left alone.
  • There was only weak evidence to support the hypothesis that relationships between owner personality and dog behavior were mediated via the owners' use of punitive training methods.
  • However, men with moderate depression were found to be 5x more likely to use aversive methods of training.


Contrary to expectations, the results did not provide strong support for our original hypothesis that the link between owner personality and dog behavior problems is mediated or effected mainly via training methods. While the analysis did detect significant associations between certain personality types-namely agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability-and the use of punitive training methods, most of these relationships accounted for very little of the variance in the behavior regression models, suggesting that behavioral influence is due to mechanisms other than training. Further research is needed to clarify and identify the causal relationship between owner personality and psychological status and the behavioral problems of companion dogs.