New study could lead to improvement in placement of companion animals

Topic: College of Sciences and Humanities

April 22, 2008

Pet owners often intuitively describe themselves as "cat people" or "dog people," but a study from Ball State University confirms that success rates of animal adoptions could be greatly improved if personalities of both human and animal were better matched.

A study of dog and cat guardians found that it is the fit between owner needs and pet personality, rather than pet type, that best predicts companion animal attachment, said Lucinda Woodward, a professor of psychological sciences and personality researcher.

"We've long had this perception that cats think of themselves as being the center of the world, but dogs are happy to be around their masters, sharing in all sorts of social activities," Woodward said. "Many people perceive themselves as being either 'cat people' or 'dog people.' These people often think they relate to their pets because they share similar personalities."

Surveys and interviews of 266 college-age pet guardians found the majority of cat owners see themselves as having personalities similar to felines such as being less submissive and more independent while most dog owners believe they are friendly and dominant and suit the characteristics of their canine friends.

"Yet, not all dogs and cats have traditionally perceived personalities," Woodward noted. "There are friendly cats that want to be around their guardians all the time and dogs that don't crave constant attention."

The study found:

  • Cats were rated by their owners as significantly more independent or distant than dogs.
  • Dogs owners found their canine companions to be significantly more friendly than cats.
  • Dog owners rated themselves as more friendly and less submissive than cat people.
     

But Woodward surmises that not all pet personalities — as well as human personalities — fit the stereotypes.

"The dynamics of the human-animal relationship are quite complex," she said. "Our study leads me to believe that 'cat people' should seek independent pets that are also low on submissiveness while 'dog people' should seek pets high on friendliness and low on dominance."

Woodward said the next step is to develop a behaviorally based checklist that will enable shelter workers to assess the personality types of different dogs on the dimensions of dominance and friendliness in order to optimize the partnering of humans and their pets. Such measures already exist for humans but are not yet available for dogs or cats.  

Woodward is seeking participants to help in the development of the Pet Attribute Work Sheet (PAWS) for dogs. 

"We hope to use the survey responses of a large national population of dog owners to develop a checklist that can be used to classify dogs on the key personality traits of dominance/submission and friendliness/independence," she said.

Dog owners interested in participating in the development of this measure may complete a survey at www.Rate-Your-Dogs-Personality.com, and enter to win one of three $25 gift certificates for PetSmart.

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