By CASSIDY HOUGH
Capital News Service
LANSING — Dogs learn a lot more than tricks from their owners, according to a new study.
They pick up their personalities, according to William Chopik and Jonathan Weaver, psychology researchers and authors of, “Old Dog, New Tricks: Age Differences in Dog Personality Traits, Associations with Human Personality Traits and Links to Important Outcomes.”
The assistant professors from Michigan State University’s psychology department based their research on their six-month study of dogs and their owners.
More than 1,600 dogs and their owners were involved in this study, Chopik said. Owners answered online questions about their personalities, as well as their dogs.
The researchers discovered that a dog will change its personality over time to be more like its owner. If a person is friendly, his or her dog is likely to be friendly.
The same goes for physical activity. If you’re active, your dog is likely to be as well, Weaver said.
And it works the other way too. As an owner becomes less active, so will their dogs, Chopik said. This is dangerous because they also found that inactive dogs are more likely to be diagnosed with chronic illnesses, such as blindness, deafness and arthritis.
For the overall well-being of your dog, Chopik suggests being affectionate and playing with it often.
The researchers also found that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Their studies showed that age 6 is the best time to teach your dog tricks.
Many owners can understand why.
“When we got Sadie at 8 weeks old, she was a total spaz,” said Olivia Lage, a Lansing resident and owner of a now-8-year-old dachshund named Sadie. “It was pretty difficult to train her.
“Now that I think of it, it probably would have been much easier to get her to cooperate once she was older,” said Lage, after learning about the study published in the Journal of Research in Personality and inspired by the authors’ observation that like people, dogs have personalities.
She said that Sadie has undergone noticeable personality changes throughout her life.
“She worships my dad, who is a super laid-back guy, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she calmed down for his sake,” Lage said.
Chopik and Weaver now want to find out exactly why dogs and their owners share personality traits.
Part of it must be credited to owners purposefully picking dogs that best suit their lifestyle, Chopik said.
For example, Weaver and his wife did research before adopting their beagle, Ernie.
“We have two young children, so we needed a dog who was essentially very relaxed and calm and not fearful of people,” Weaver said.
To form the best relationship with your dog, Chopik suggests doing research before adopting to make sure the breed you want can easily adapt to your lifestyle. You should also be conscious of the fact that your actions could affect your dog’s health and well-being, Chopik said.
Chopik and Weaver plan to do the same study on cats.
Sara Statchura, of Lansing, has owned seven cats and said she hopes that this study will help her to better understand their behaviors.
“All the cats I’ve had in the past have acted similarly, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that was because they were adapting to my personality,” Statchura said.
Chopik and Weaver’s bigger goal is to find out where personality comes from. But they also hope to help animal shelters figure out how to get animals into the hands of people who would be an appropriate match.
People return dogs days after adopting all the time, according to Joanie Toole, the chief of the Oakland County Animal Shelter.
“I really wish people would do some breed research and see what would fit in their lifestyle,” she said. “I think it would prevent 99 percent of adoption returns.”