Dogs Can Be Pessimists Or Optimists...Which is Yours?

OLD WESTBURY, NY - SEPTEMBER 30: Dogs parade in costume during a Halloween contest at the Old Westbury Gardens on September 30, 2012 in Old Westbury, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Source: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Think that your dog is just the happiest puppy around? Well, now there is actually a way to tell. Just like people, dogs can be pessimists, according to a new study from the University of Sydney.

Researchers measured positive and negative emotional states in dogs by setting up a rewards system. They trained their group of furry subjects to recognize two distinct sounds, one of which signaled that the dog would receive a bowl of water, and the other which meant that the dog would be getting a bowl of milk, the preferred reward. After the dogs understood the signals, the researchers played ambiguous sounds in between the octaves of the original sounds, and recorded whether or not the dog responded.

Dogs that responded to the ambiguous tones were labeled optimistic, as they expected good things to happen to them (i.e., to receive a bowl of milk). If a dog responded to an ambiguous note closer to the one played before water is offered, then it was labeled as very optimistic.  While lead researcher Dr. Starling reports that it is too early to apply her findings to the general canine population, the study suggests that more dogs are optimistic than pessimistic. 

Knowing whether a dog is optimistic or pessimistic isn’t simply a way of getting to know man’s best friend better; the research has practical applications. An optimistic dog is more likely to take chances, meaning that dogs with optimistic identities would be good at police work, such as searching for drugs or explosives. Pessimistic dogs are more risk-averse, making them better candidates for service animals. 

Dr. Starling also believes that this type of research can be used to gauge a dog’s mood, and be a useful tool is assessing animal welfare. If the research can be applied on a larger scale, it could mean finding what a dog finds emotionally distressing and making sure that they are in a safe environment…great news for dogs and animal lovers everywhere.

 I'm no PhD myself, but I think I can safely label these dogs: 

Pessimist.

Optimist.

Pessimist.

Optimist.

Pessimist.

Optimist.

Pretty impressive, right? 


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