Optimism in dogs

Optimism in humans refers to a tendency to expect more positive outcomes in life than negative. Animals have been shown to possess similar biases depending on whether they may be feeling “happy” or “unhappy”. Like humans, animals that are in a positive emotional state expect more positive outcomes in life, so may be considered optimistic, while animals in a negative emotional state expect more negative outcomes, so may be considered pessimistic. These are known as judgement biases, and can be objectively measured to give us an insight into their current emotional state. This may allow us to draw conclusions about what makes them happy and what distresses them in the short term.

It is possible animals also display optimism as a character trait. Identifying links between optimism and personality in dogs may help to identify what kind of environment and training an individual may be best suited to, as well as their suitability for a working role. This project has pioneered the use of an automated apparatus for training and testing dogs’ optimism. Combined with a personality survey, this may help both assess welfare and establish objective measures of dog personality and what personality traits may mean practically when it comes to training individual dogs.

Mel Starling

Researcher: Melissa Starling | Nick Branson | Paul McGreevy

Contact: mjstarling@fastmail.com.au

Research website: http://dogoptimism.com

Institution: The University of Sydney

Starling, M., Branson, N., Thomson, P., McGreevy, P. (2013). “Boldness” in the domestic dog differs among breeds and breed groups. Behavioural Processes, 97, 53-62. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0376635713000818

Starling, M.J.; Branson, N.; Cody, D.; McGreevy, P.D. Conceptualising the Impact of Arousal and Affective State on Training Outcomes of Operant Conditioning. Animals 2013, 3, 300-317. http://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/3/2/300

Starling, M., Branson, N., Thomson, P., McGreevy, P. (In press). Age, sex and reproductive status affect boldness in dogs. The Veterinary Journal. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1090023313002335