The idea that dogs look like their owners really does have some merit: Research has shown that people tend to choose pups that share their physical characteristics, in ways both obvious and subtle. Overweight people are more likely to have plumper dogs, for example, but even something as small as the shape of the eyes can be a factor. We’re drawn, in other words, to pets that remind us of ourselves.
And new research shows that appearance isn’t the only thing we share with our canine pals. Animal behavior researchers (and pet owners, for that matter) have long known that dogs pick up what we’re putting down — they can sense when things in their home are tense, or when their humans are unhappy. But according to a study published in the journal PLOS and highlighted by the BBC, that sensitivity means that dogs often take on elements of our personalities, too.
The authors recruited 132 dogs and their owners, monitoring the stress of each member of the pair using both behavioral tests (observing how they reacted to perceived threats in the lab) and physical markers (like heart rate and saliva samples to detect the stress hormone cortisol). Each of the human volunteers also filled out a survey to measure their levels of the Big Five personality traits — agreeableness, neuroticism, extraversion, conscientiousness, and openness — and filled out a similar questionnaire about their pets’ personalities.
The results: The more anxious and neurotic the owner, the researchers discovered, the more likely the dog was to share those same traits. On the flip side, chiller dogs were more likely to belong to more relaxed owners.
“Owners and dogs are social dyads [a group of two], and they influence each other’s stress coping,” lead author Iris Schoberl, an animal behavior researcher at the University of Vienna, told the BBC.
The study authors argued that the human half of the pair was likely more influential than the dog. In other words, we’re likelier to pass on our own traits to our dogs than we are to adopt theirs.
Something to think about when you’re training your dog, or just trying to ease their nerves: The best way to have a calm, happy-go-lucky pet may be to lead by example.