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Is your dog a pessimist or an optimist? It could explain his behavior, researchers say

October 14, 2010
  • A happier dog may mean a happier family.
A happier dog may mean a happier family. (Kathy Kmonicek / Associated…)

If your dog is misbehaving, it might be because he's a food-dish-half-empty kind of canine. That's the word from a study published in Current Biology this week.

The University of Bristol researchers wanted to see if separation-related behavior -- all that howling, pooping and wholesale furniture trashing some dogs engage in when their humans leave them home alone -- might be related to a dog's underlying state of mind. Were some dogs more upbeat and others more prone to negative behavior?

The scientists set up an experiment. They put a dish with food in one corner, and an empty dish in the other, training the dogs to recognize which was which. Then they began putting the dishes in "ambiguous" places between the two corners, and saw which dogs ran quickly over to a dish -- apparently hoping for food -- and which dogs hung back, keeping their expectations low.

The researchers found that those "pessimistic" dogs were more likely to engage in bad behavior when their owners left them. And if these behaviors are personality driven, the authors write, they "can be targeted in therapy to help minimize relinquishment, enhance welfare and enhance the success of re-homing."

A little dog therapy to resocialize the pets might keep more people from sending their misbehaving dogs to the pound? In a world of doggie cupcake parlors and bootcamps (and in light of overpopulation in pet shelters across the country), it's not a bad idea. A happier dog may mean a happier family.

-- Amina Khan / Los Angeles Times

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