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What is Your Dog's Personality?

By: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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Every dog has its day - and its own unique personality. We have all met pushy dogs and retiring dogs, highly active dogs and inactive ones, independent dogs and those that are decidedly dependant, social dogs and aloof dogs, confident dogs and fearful dogs, easily distractible dogs and practically compulsive dogs. Personality is a blend of these factors giving myriad individual personality configurations. For humans, their complicated personalities have been distilled into four basic dimensions in the Myers-Briggs personality profile. These are: extrovert/introvert (E/I), intuitive/sensing (N/S), thinking/feeling (T/F), judgmental/perceptive (J/P). These 4 dimensions have 16 possible combinations (ENTJ, ENTP, INTJ, INTP, etc) and these combinations can be arranged into 4 basic temperament types. A similar scheme (not precisely equivalent) might be applicable for evaluation dogs' temperaments.


There are definitely canine extroverts and introverts, perhaps more appropriately referred to as dominants and deferents (Do/De). The dominants are full of confidence, are playful and in-your-face type dogs. Deferents are quieter and prefer to keep themselves to themselves: They are seen but not "experienced," except in a more passive way.

Questions pertaining to dominance:

1. If you stare at your dog will he stare back? Y/N
2. If you try to hold him still, will he resist? Y/N
3. If you lift him off his feet, might he object? Y/N
4. Does he ever protect food or objects from you? Y/N
5. Is he relatively independent? Y/N
6. Does he demand affection/attention? Y/N
7. Is he slow to obey commands he knows? Y/N
8. Does he ever resist petting? Y/N
9. Does he play roughly? Y/N
10. Does he make friends easily with most other dogs? Y/N

Affirmative answers to the majority of these questions indicate a more dominant type of personality. Characterize "Do" >5 'Y's or "De" <5. A midway score (5) will need a tiebreaker decision from you: Is your dog more pushy (Do) or more accepting (De)?


One of the strongest and most clinically relevant drives a dog possesses is "prey drive." Those dogs that are most highly driven in this respect versus their less reactionary antitheses might be classified along an axis described as P/S. (P = predatory/driven; S = more sensing/thoughtful).

Questions pertaining to predatory instinct:

1. Does your dog like to chase small furry animals (like squirrels and cats)? Y/N
2. Does your dog like chasing and/or retrieving tennis balls? Y/N
3. Does your dog chase joggers or cyclists? Y/N
4. Does your dog case cars? Y/N
5. Does your dog bark at animals when they appear on television? Y/N
6. Does your dog try to stop people from leaving your home? Y/N
7. Does your dog chase its tail? Y/N
8. Does your dog like playing Frisbee? Y/N
9. Does your dog spend a lot of time on walks searching/exploring ? Y/N
10. Is your dog good at following scent trails? Y/N

Affirmative answers to >5 questions indicate high prey drive (assigned P). Affirmative answers to <5 questions indicates a dog that functions more from experience than from instinct (assigned S). A midway score (5) will need a tiebreaker decision by you: Would you describe your dog as more of a hunter/reactor (P) or tending to base actions more on experience/learning (S).


All dogs may show fearfulness at times but some are more likely to have their lives affected by fear than others. It is logical to be frightened about something that threatens to be harmful. It is not logical to be excessively fearful of numerous, apparently innocuous cues. This axis can be described as T/F same as for people, except that in this case F stands for fear. A dog can thus be more a more thoughtful type, reacting appropriately in the face of possible threats (T) or be excessively fearful, an over reactor in the face of perceived threat (F).

Questions about fearfulness are:

1. Does your dog react oddly (hide, roll, squat, urinate, bark, lunge) in the presence of strangers? Y/N

2. Is your dog intimidated by men wearing beards, hats, boots, uniforms? Y/N

3. Does your dog hide or act aggressively around unfamiliar children? Y/N

4. Does your dog attack the majority of other dogs? Y/N

5. Is your dog frightened of loud noises or storms? Y/N

6. Is your dog afraid of small spaces, wide-open spaces, or stairs? Y/N

7. Does your dog appear anxious while being transported in the car? Y/N

8. Does our dog act fearfully or aggressively in the veterinarian's office? Y/N

9. Does you dog bark, destroy things, or urinate ONLY when left alone? Y/N?

10. Does your dog follow you around the house, look anxious when you prepare to leave, and greet you exuberantly when you return home? Y/N

Interpretation: Affirmative answers to >5 of these questions indicate a more fearful type of dog. Affirmative answers to <5 of these questions indicates a dog that functions more as a result of functional assessment of the world around it than out of fear, mistrust and suspicion. Rate dog as either T (acting more appropriately as a result of intuition) or F (acting dyfunctionally out of fear). If your dog scores in the mid range (5), you will need to make a tiebreaker decision as to whether he is more thoughtful (T) or generally more fearful (F).

Easily Stressed

There is no accurate canine equivalent of judgmental versus perceptive personalities, though it is true that some dogs are more bound by routine, becoming stressed when habits cannot be indulged whereas others are low stress creatures of opportunity. If your dog thrives on routine and can become a little uptight when it is disturbed, rate it "J" for judgmental. If it is more easy going and flexible, capitalizing on opportunities as and when they arise, rate it "P" for perceptive.

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