A Study on the Effects of Personality Could Help Shelters Match Dogs to People

vet examining dog
20101118 - North Grafton, Mass. - Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Professor and Section Head and Program Director for Animal Behavior at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, photographed at the behavioral studies clinic in North Grafton, Mass. on Nov. 18, 2010....(Kelvin Ma/Tufts University)

Beyond breed, color, size, and gender, every dog has something else — a personality. Science has proven time and time again that dogs experience and display emotions. Understanding dogs as being capable of feelings and full of individual personalities is a crucial part in pairing shelter dogs with potential families. This is the current undertaking of the Center for Canine Behavior Studies, a group dedicated to investigating and strengthening the human/canine bond.

Comprising a team of experts, including the renowned Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman as chief scientific officer, the center is raising money and enlisting participants to launch a major investigative study into the complexities of human/canine relationships. The goal is to create a better understanding of the variables that contribute to human/canine bonds and interaction, with the intention of putting this information to use in pairing potential owners and dogs. The better the match, the better the chance of that dog having a home for life, which is the end goal.

Dr. Nicholas Dodman on the job.

The inspiration

With more than 44 years of experience in the veterinary field, Dr. Nicholas Dodman surprised me when he revealed that he has been a dog owner for only about five years.

“While I’ve always had an affection for all creatures big and small,” he said, “my lifestyle and work just didn’t allow for a dog at the time.”

They always had cats, but Dr. Dodman and his wife did not see a dog in their future, although they both loved them. After their two cats passed away at ages 19 and 21, Dr. Dodman’s wife went to the local shelter in search of two more cats. She ended up coming home with one cat … and one dog, Rusty. He was a handsome eight-month-old pup with rust-colored fur and a black mouth, and Dr. Dodman fell in love with Rusty’s warm and friendly personality. They later adopted Jasper, whose story was anything but ordinary.

Dr. Nicholas Dodman and one of his patients.
Dr. Nicholas Dodman and one of his patients.

Jasper had the unfortunate fate of having a very busy and rather neglectful owner. She worked all day, and sometimes stayed out all night. The end result? Jasper spent about 23 hours of every day in a crate. He ended up getting into his owner’s bathroom one day and ingested quite a few Tampax, three of which got stuck. His owner was going to put him down, as she couldn’t afford the surgery, but Dr. Dodman and his wife stepped in. They offered to handle the surgery themselves, as long as she would relinquish Jasper to them so that they may find him a new home. She relented, and Jasper became their foster dog, then later a permanent fixture of their family.

As Dr. Dodman speaks of his dogs, you can hear the love and deep affection he holds for them. “I just think [about] how tragic it would be if anything happened to Rusty,” he said. “These dogs, they’re the love of my life.” With someone who cares as much about his dogs as Dr. Dodman, there’s no doubting the passion that he brings to the center and its new study.

What makes this study different

Although plenty of studies have included dogs and humans (remember Pavlov?), most of these studies are centered around the dogs and the way they communicate. While it’s wonderful to explore the many ways our dogs communicate with us and other species, there is a huge need for a better way to match dogs and humans. Even if a dog is the breed, color, size, and gender you want, a personality conflict can make the relationship difficult, if not impossible. Administrated by Tufts University, this study aims to analyze all of the intricacies involved in the relationships between dogs and their owners, hopefully gaining a better understanding of how our personalities and psychological status affects the behaviors of our dogs.

Dodman with Jasper and Rusty.
Dodman with Jasper and Rusty.

How you can help

For the center to complete its work, it needs volunteers to participate as “citizen scientists” in the inaugural study, a “longitudinal study to establish once and for all how owner personality and psychological status affect a pet dog’s behavior.” Owners of pure and mixed breeds are encouraged to participate, particularly those who obtained their dog through a shelter. Before the study can begin, however, they must raise enough funds to finance their efforts. You can help by donating through its page and spreading the word about this groundbreaking study.

If we have a greater understanding of how we influence the behavior of our dogs, we can make better adoption choices and smarter training decisions, leading to a reduced relinquishment rate and a stronger human/canine bond.

Read more about rescue on Dogster:

About Meghan Lodge: Fits the Aquarius definition to a fault, loves animals, and is always pushing for change. Loves ink, whether it’s in tattoos, books, or writing on that pretty sheet of blank paper. Proud parent of Toby (cat) and Axle (dog). I’m a former quiet nerd who’s turned bubbly animal-obsessed advocate.

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