How to tell if your dog is a pessimist

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happy-dog300A new study of doggy personalities could help assess their welfare and help trainers pick the right dog for any service duties.

If a pessimistic pup grows up to have a job it is probably more suited to guiding duties than bomb detection.

Optimistic dogs are more likely to be unfazed by failing at tasks and more likely to pick themselves up and try again.

New Australian-led research could help trainers detect those traits by measuring positive and negative emotional states in dogs objectively and non-invasively.

Melissa Starling, from Sydney University’s Faculty of Veterinary Science, says finding out as accurately as possible whether a particular dog is optimistic or pessimistic has important implications for animal welfare and could help train dogs.

“If we know how optimistic or pessimistic an animal usually is, it’s possible to track changes in that optimism that will indicate when it is in a more positive or negative emotional state than usual,” Dr Starling says in a statement.

This could be used to monitor their welfare in any environment, to assess how effective enrichment activities might be in improving welfare, and pinpoint exactly what a dog finds emotionally distressing.

The findings published in the journal PLOS, say testing a dog’s optimism early could help identify good candidates for training.

“A pessimistic dog that avoids risks would be better as a guide dog while an optimistic, persistent dog would be more suited to detecting drugs or explosives,” Dr Starling said.

How the study worked:

* 40 dogs of various breeds were tested. Most were optimists.

* 17 were from a positive training and pet boarding company, 12 from Assistance Dogs Australia, 11 from a security company.

* Dogs were taught to associate two different sounds (two octaves apart) with whether they would get the preferred reward of milk or instead just water.

* Once the dogs learn the discrimination task, they are presented with “ambiguous” tones.

* Dogs that respond after ambiguous tones expect good things will happen to them.

* A very optimistic dog may even respond to tones that sound more like those played before water is offered.

* A pessimistic dog expects less good things to happen and more bad things. This may make him cautious and risk averse.

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