Scientists have used a dog personality test to track how our canine friends’ characters change with age.
A research team based at the ELTE Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest and the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna assessed 217 border collies with the Vienna Dog Personality Test (VIDOPET), with ages ranging from 6 months to 15 years. Four years later, the team re-tested 37 dogs.
The VIDOPET measures 5 different components of a dog’s character: Sociability-obedience, Activity-independence, Novelty seeking, Problem orientation, and Frustration tolerance.
The test is comprised of 15 short activities, designed to explore each of these aspects. For example, a dog’s Frustration tolerance is measured by swinging a large piece of sausage on a string just out of the dog’s reach, and Sociability-obedience is measured by the owner giving commands while an experimenter tries to distract the dog.
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Other activities include leaving the dog alone in a room for one minute, presenting the dog with a toy that moves and makes a noise, and dressing the dog in a T-shirt.
In humans, personality changes over time, but stays roughly the same compared to peers. So, we become more conscientious as we get older, but the most conscientious young people are still the most conscientious as adults.
The researchers found a similar effect in dogs: their rankings in all five personality aspects stayed roughly the same as they aged. Like in humans, the dogs that were more mature to begin with changed less.
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However, the team noticed that different aspects of dogs’ characters changed at different rates. Sociability stayed the same over a dog’s life, and Frustration tolerance only slightly improved as the dog aged. Novelty seeking stayed roughly the same for the first three years of a dog’s life, and then gradually tailed off.
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Activity-independence dropped sharply between puppyhood and adolescence, and Problem orientation increased rapidly up until 6 years of age.
The researchers say that their results could be used to identify age-related impairments in older dogs, which are linked to high levels of activity but low problem orientation.
"By describing in detail the normative patterns of personality development throughout different life stages, our study can help in the identification of age-related impairments," said Enikő Kubinyi, principal investigator at the Senior Family Dog Project.
"Dogs are already recognised as a natural model for human cognitive ageing, and our results suggest that similar rules govern the age-related changes in both human and dog personality."
Reader Q&A: What’s the most popular dog breed?Asked by: Barry Evans, Cardiff
According to data from the Kennel Club, the Labrador is currently the UK’s top dog, reclaiming its spot last year after briefly losing it to the French bulldog. In the US, the Labrador has been the most popular breed for nearly 30 years.
Labradors are favourites because they are great all-rounders: they’re good-natured, playful and relatively easy to train. They are also highly intelligent dogs – canine psychology expert Dr Stanley Coren ranks them as one of the 10 brightest breeds – and they have the highest success rates for passing training programmes to become guide dogs.
Labradors also have fewer health complications than many other breeds. They typically live for around 12 years, although a 2018 study at the University of London’s Royal Veterinary College found that chocolate Labs have 10 per cent shorter lifespans, due to greater inbreeding.
Probably the most common health issue that Labradors face is obesity. This isn’t just greediness: a 2016 study at Cambridge University reported that 25 per cent of Labradors have a genetic mutation that means they never feel full.