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Comparison of Personality Inventories of Owners of Dogs With and Without Behavior Problems

Nicholas H. Dodman, BVMS, DACVB*

Gary J. Patronek, VMD, PhD*

Victoria J. Dodman, MS†

Martin L. Zelin, PhD‡

Nicole Cottam, MS*

*Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, Departments of Clinical Sciences and Environmental and Population Health, North Grafton, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

†Center for Psychological Studies, Nova Southeastern University, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, U.S.A.

‡Tufts University, Department of Psychology, 490 Boston Avenue, Medford, Massachusetts, U.S.A.


KEYWORDS: dog, canine, owner, personality, behavior problem, dominance aggression, fear aggression, separation anxiety



Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine whether owners of dogs with behavior problems would generally score less favorably on a personality test, and, more specifically, on the particular personality scales concerned with measuring confidence, independence, and sociability.

Sample Population: Canine patients that visited Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine for treatment of dominance-related aggression, fear aggression, separation anxiety, and various other medical afflictions (control group).

Procedure: Owners of 54 dogs (12 with dominance-related aggression, 15 with fear aggression, 15 with separation anxiety, and 12 controls) completed the California Personality Inventory (CPI). An independent t-test was used to identify any significant difference in mean CPI scores on 23 personality scales between owners of dogs with behavior problems (n = 42) and controls (n = 12). Each behavior problem group was compared independently with the control group as well using analysis of variance (ANOVA).

Results: Owners of dogs with a behavior problem scored less favorably on 20 of the 23 personality scales measured. Additionally, owners of dogs with behavior problems scored significantly lower than owners of dogs in the control group on some of the personality scales that comprise the CPI. Two of 23 scales, namely “dominance” and “capacity for status” showed significant differences at the P = < 0.01 alpha level.

Conclusions: This study confirms and extends the observations of the authors and other researchers that owner personality and the expression of canine behavior problems may be associated. In particular, the findings indicate that more confident, independent-minded persons are less likely to be confronted with a canine behavior problem, such as dominance-related aggression, fear aggression, or separation anxiety.



Canine behavioral problems range in severity from relatively inconsequential problems to severe dsyfunctional behavior. Among the most frequently reported are those of aggression and separation anxiety.1,2 Although genetic influences on canine behavior should not be underestimated, nutural factors, including owners’ attitudes and interactions with the dogs, also may have a significant impact. For example, researchers believe that the problem of dominance-related aggression might arise more commonly when owners “pamper or spoil” dogs.3 Hart states that the owner’s behavior may be perceived by the dominant dog as submission, fostering a more dominant role on the part of the dog.

Podberscek and Serpell4 outlined an association between owner personality and canine aggression, showing that owners of aggressive dogs tend to be “tense, emotionally less stable, shy, and undisciplined,” when compared with owners of less aggressive dogs. Participant selections were made on the basis of questionnaires completed by owners asked to rate the dogs’ aggression. Owners’ personalities were evaluated using the Cattell 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire. The authors acknowledged that their study did not distinguish between different types of aggression in these dogs and that it focused on one specific breed of dog (English Cocker Spaniel). A study of the attitudes of owners of dominant aggressive dogs indicated that such owners were more likely to display anthropomorphic involvement with their dogs.5 The same author also reported an association between over-excitement and displacement activities in dogs and anxiety on the part of the owner.5

Dodman et al.6 investigated the personalities of owners of dominant aggressive dogs. Their results showed interesting trends but failed to reach a level of statistical significance, possibly because of the small sample size and the psychological instrument employed in personality testing. The authors recommended conducting a larger study using a more sophisticated personality gauge, such as the California Psychological Inventory (CPI),7 a psychological test that reflects the variability and complexity of human personality (Table 1).

The present study was initiated to further evaluate the personality traits of the owners of dogs with behavior problems using the CPI. The CPI is a widely used self-report measure of personality functioning that has good reliability and validity. Personality traits of persons owning dogs with one of three major behavioral problems (dominance-related aggression, fear aggression, or separation anxiety) were examined using this method and were compared with the personality traits of a similar group of individuals owning dogs that did not have behavioral problems. The hypothesis of this study is that owners of dogs with behavior problems will score less favorably on factors of the CPI concerned with sociability, independence, and confidence than owners of dogs without a serious behavior problem.



Fifty-four adult dogs, comprising three test groups (group 1: 12 dogs with dominance aggression; group 2: 15 dogs with fear aggression; group 3: 15 with separation anxiety; one control group: 12 dogs) and their consenting owners were enrolled in this study from 1997 through 1999. All 54 dogs were brought to Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine behavior clinic for treatment of a behavior problem. All 12 dogs in the control group were also brought to Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine for medical or surgical attention, and owners of these dogs were surveyed to ascertain that the dogs did not have a behavioral problem.

All owners were instructed to complete several questionnaires, including those relating to their dogs’ behavior and the CPI. The behavioral questionnaires allowed quantification of the severity of the dog’s problem and identification of ancillary behavior problems that might otherwise complicate the diagnosis. Analyzing the behaviors in this way permitted a greater degree of diagnostic and quantitative objectivity, because the owners’ responses were limited to the provision of empiric information for each of the behavioral conditions under study.

The diagnosis of dominance aggression was quantified using a “canine-overt aggression” chart previously described and used by Dodman et al.8 Owners were asked to identify situations (such as approaching the dog’s food bowl or handling the dog’s muzzle) in which their dog’s aggression occurred and to record the intensity of their dog’s response in these specific situations. For the purposes of this study, aggression in 5 or more of these situations provided confirmation of dominance aggression. The initial diagnosis of fear-based aggression was made during the client-behaviorist consultation on the basis of the dog’s behavioral history and evaluation by a veterinary behaviorist (N.H.D.). The diagnosis was further substantiated by the owners’ completion of a survey regarding the dog’s background, length of ownership, body postures associated with aggression (eg, tail tucked, eyes averted, head and neck lowered), individuals to whom the dogs’ aggression was directed (strangers vs. family members) and situations likely to provoke aggression (approach of a uniformed man).

The qualitative aspects of aggression noted by the owner allowed for evaluation and distinction between fear aggression and other types of aggression. Two or more dominant-aggressive reactions by the dog disqualified the dog from enrollment in the study, because the dog’s behavioral problem no longer met the enrollment criterion of an uncomplicated diagnosis. Separation anxiety was quantified by the owner reporting at least 5 of 10 classic behaviors showed by dogs with this condition, including but not limited to following the owner around the house, excessive vocalization within 30 minutes after owner departure, and destruction of property only in the owner’s absence. When more than one owner was present for a given dog, only the responses from the primary caretaker of the dog were used. Participants from the control group received all questionnaires given to each of the three experimental groups. To be considered valid control subjects, dogs had to have a score of less than 5 of 30 on the dominance scale, show no aggression toward children or strangers, and have less than 5 of 10 signs of separation anxiety on the separation anxiety check sheet.

Finally, all owners were required to complete the CPI, a lengthy questionnaire of 462 items, designed to assess personality based on true and false responses. Owners’ personality patterns were recorded along 20 psychological scales and three variable scales (Table. 1). Overall, these 23 categories provided the basis for comparison between owners of problem dogs and control group owners.



Descriptive statistics were obtained using a commercially available software package for a personal computer (SPSS, Chicago, IL, U.S.A.). Analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to test whether owners’ scores on the psychological inventory would be related to the dog’s behavior. Dunnett’s test was used to test for differences in mean CPI score variables between owners of dog in the individual dog behavior problem groups and the controls. A t-test for independent samples was used to test for significant differences in CPI score variables between controls and all behavior problem groups combined. For data that did not fulfill the assumptions of homogeneity of variance and normal distribution, the Kruskal-Wallis test was used. Significance was determined at P = < 0.01. This alpha value was chosen to avoid the increased chance of making a Type 1 error when making multiple comparisons. The Bonferroni correction was not used because it was thought too conservative.9

A t-test for independent samples was used to test for significant differences between the combined behavior problem groups and the control in the owner’s age. The non-parametric, Mann Whitney test was used to determine whether any difference existed in the age of dogs between the combined behavior problem groups and the controls. To test for significant differences in dog breed, neuter status and dog and owner sex between the two groups, chi-square analysis (Fisher’s Exact test) was used, and the alpha value was set at P = < 0.05.



When the CPI scores of all the subjects with problem dogs were combined (n = 42) and compared with the CPI scores of the control group (n = 12), two of the 23 scales showed significant differences at a P = < 0.01 level of significance (Table 2). The two scales that were significantly different were Dominance and Capacity for Status. Four scales approached significant difference at P = < 0.01 namely, Sociablity, Empathy, Achievement via Conformance, and Intellectual Efficiency. In addition, 20 of 23 differences in mean CPI scale scores favored the control group (Table 2). Both the differences between the problem dog owners and control dog owners and the overall trend seem to indicate that control dog owners feel more confident, more independent, more comfortable with themselves than problem dog owners.

To investigate whether specific personality differences existed between the control group and the various subgroups of problem dog owners (owners of dogs with dominance-related aggression, fear aggression, or separation anxiety), the mean CPI scores of each problem group were independently compared with the control group. When individual behavior problem groups were compared with the controls in this way, the only difference found was that owners of dogs with separation anxiety scored significantly lower than owners of control dogs on the Capacity for Status variable (P = 0.003).

A breakdown of owner and dog demographics of the control and experimental groups indicates no significant difference between the groups in the age and gender of dogs and owners, and breed and neuter status of the dogs (Table 3).



When the CPI data from owners of dogs with behavioral problems were combined and compared with those of the control group, two scales reflected significantly different scores. The Dominance scale was lower for owners of dogs with behavior problems, indicating that these owners had a relatively unassuming, overly compliant, and unforceful nature. This finding correlates with our (N.H.D., N.C.) general clinical impressions of the owners of problem dogs and the published opinions of others.3,5 Over-compliance traditionally has been regarded as a factor involved in the development of owner-directed dominance-related aggression in dogs3,10–12 but has not previously been linked with the expression of fear aggression or separation anxiety in dogs. Over-compliance by owners may facilitate fear aggression in dogs because such owners may be more likely to permit their dog to engage in self-reinforcing fear aggressive displays. Additionally, dogs owned by compliant owners may choose to disregard the owners’ directions and resist physical attempts to curtail the aggressive behavior. Owner over-compliance may be a factor in the propagation of separation anxiety as well. Unassuming owners may not encourage independent behavior by the dogs, fostering excessive attachment and over-dependence.

The CPI score reflecting Capacity for Status was lower for problem dog owners as a whole and for owners of dogs in the separation anxiety group independently, than the control group of owners. The implication is that owners of dogs in the control group were more secure and motivated, inspiring greater confidence, which resulted in more compliance and independence in the dogs.

Four scales approached statistical significance, including Sociability, which was expected by the authors to be an important human personality factor associated with problem dog behavior. Though unexpected, it is quite plausible that the other three scales also reflect components of human personality that are important in preventing or managing undesirable canine behavior.

We must emphasize that this study is pilot in nature, with limitations of small sample size, unmatched groups, and many variables. However, we believe that the trends we found may prove significant in future studies designed to address the speculations raised. The fact that, in the present study, differences were found using an alpha level of P £ 0.01 suggests that the effect could be quite profound. If validated, these findings would support the contention that confident, sociable, independent persons might instill more confident behavior in their pets, decreasing the likelihood for the development of a behavior problem.

The CPI scores of owners in the problem behavior group compare favorably with respect to the population at large on all scales (so-called basic normative sample). This implies that problem dog owners were not psychologically impaired. However, the more optimal personality ratings of the control group may have contributed to their success as dog owners. It seems reasonable that a more robust level of psychologic adaptation by owners would be beneficial in suppressing, containing, or otherwise controlling potential behavior problems in their dogs.

A contrary explanation for the findings in this study is that the misbehavior of problem dogs somehow affects owner personality in a negative way or, conversely, that owning a well-behaved dog augments more desirable personality traits in the dog’s owner. However, it is the authors’ opinion that such an explanation is unlikely.

Finally, differences between the groups of dogs or owners may have accounted for our findings. Analysis of the demographics of the groups revealed no significant differences either in dog breed, age, or sex between the groups. Also important, no group difference was found between the age and gender of the dogs’ owners. Accordingly, we believe the findings in this study are valid and our explanations for the differences compatible with our own and other clinicians’ collective impressions.



1. Bradshaw JWS, McPherson JA, Casey RA, Larter IS: Aetiology of separation-related behaviour in domestic dogs. Vet Rec 151:43-46, 2002.

2. Jacobs C, DeKeuster T, Simoens P: Assessing the pathological extent of aggressive behaviour in dogs. A review of the literature. Vet Q 25:53–60, 2003.

3. Hart BL: Aggressive behavior in dogs. In: Canine and Feline Behavioral Therapy, Philadelphia: Lea and Febiger; 34–35, 1985.

4. Podberscek AL, Serpell JA: Aggressive behaviour in English cocker spaniels and the personality of their owners. Vet Rec 141:73–76, 1997.

5. O’Farrell V: Owner attitudes and dog behavior problems. Appl Animal Behav Sci 52:205–213, 1997.

6. Dodman NH, Moon R, Zelin M: Influence of owner personality type on expression and treatment outcome of dominance aggression in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 209:1585–1587, 1996.

7. Gough HG: California Psychological Inventory administrator’s guide (Eighth printing). Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc., 1987.

8. Dodman NH, Donnelly R, Shuster L, et al: Use of fluoxetine to treat dominance aggression in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 209:1107–1109, 1996.

9. Jaccard J, Wan CK: LISREL approaches to interaction effects in multiple regression. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1996.

10. Vollmer PJ: Socially influenced aggression: The alpha syndrome. Vet Med Small Animal Clin 73:141–142, 1978.

11. Reisner IR, Erb HE, Houpt KA: Risk factors for behavior-related euthanasia among dominant-aggressive dogs: 110 cases (1989–1992). J Am Vet Med Assoc 205:855–863, 1993.

12. Ban B: From growl to whimper: the spectrum of canine behavior modification. J Am Vet Med Assoc 204:7–12, 1994.


Table 1. The 20 Folk Concept Scales of the CPI and Their Intended Meanings

Scale Name                       Intended Implications of Higher and Lower Scores


Do (Dominance)               Higher: confident, assertive, dominant, task-oriented

                                    Lower:  unassuming, not forceful

Cs (Capacity for Status)      Higher: ambitious, wants to be a success, independent

                                    Lower:  unsure of self, dislikes direct competition

Sy (Sociability)               Higher: sociable, likes to be with people, friendly

                                    Lower:  shy, feels uneasy in social situations, prefers to keep in the background

Sp (Social Presence)          Higher: self-assured, spontaneous; a good talker; not easily embarrassed

                                    Lower:  cautious, hesitant to assert own views or opinions; not sarcastic or sharp-tongued

Sa (Self-acceptance)           Higher: has good opinion of self; sees self as talented, and as personally attractive

                                    Lower:  self-doubting; readily assumes blame when things go wrong; often thinks others are better

In (Independence)             Higher: self-sufficient, resourceful, detached

                                    Lower:  lacks self-confidence, seeks support from others

Em (Empathy)                  Higher: comfortable with self and well-accepted by others; understands the feelings of others

                                    Lower:  ill at ease in many situations; unempathic

Re (Responsibility)          Higher: responsible, reasonable, takes duties seriously

                                    Lower:  not overly concerned about duties and obligations; may be careless or lazy

So (Socialization)             Higher: comfortably accepts ordinary rules and regulations; finds it easy to conform

                                    Lower:  resists rules and regulations; finds it hard to conform; not conventional

Sc (Self-control)               Higher: tries to control emotions and temper; takes pride in being self-disciplined

                                    Lower:  has strong feelings and emotions, and makes little attempt to hide them; speaks out when angry or annoyed

Gi (Good Impression)        Higher: wants to make a good impression; tries to do what will please others

                                    Lower:  insists on being himself or herself, even if this causes friction or problems

Cm (Communality)            Higher: fits in easily; sees self as a quite average person

                                    Lower: sees self as different from others; does not have the same ideas, preferences, etc., as others

Wb (Well-being)              Higher: feels in good physical and emotional health; optimistic about the future

                                    Lower:  concerned about health and personal problems; worried about the future

To (Tolerance)                  Higher: is tolerant of others' beliefs and values, even when different from or counter to own beliefs

                                    Lower:  not tolerant of others; skeptical about what they say

Ac (Achievement              Higher: has strong drive to do well: likes to work in settings where tasks and expectations
Conformance)                  are clearly defined

                                    Lower:  has difficulty in doing best work in situations with strict rules and expectations

Ai                                Higher: has strong drive to do well; likes to work in settings that encourage freedom and

(Achievement via             individual initiative
Independence)                 Lower:  has difficulty in doing best work in situations that are vague, poorly defined, and lacking in clear-cut methods and standards

Ie                                 Higher: efficient in use of intellectual abilities; can keep on at a task where others might get (Intellectual Efficiency)           bored or discouraged

                                    Lower:  has a hard time getting stated on things, and seeing them through to completion

Py                                Higher: more interested in why people do what they do than in what they do; good judge of            (Psychological           how people feel and what they think about things

mindedness)                    Lower:  more interested in the practical and concrete than the abstract; looks more at what people do than what they feel or think

Fx (Flexibility)                 Higher: flexible; likes change and variety; easily bored by routine life and everyday experience; may be impatient, and even erratic

                                    Lower: not changeable; likes a steady pace and well-organized life; may be stubborn and even rigid

F/M                              Higher: sympathetic, helpful; sensitive to criticism; tends to interpret events from a personal
(Femininity/Masculinity)   point of view; often feels vulnerable

                                    Lower: decisive, action-oriented; takes the initiative; not easily subdued; rather unsentimental

Variable scales:                        V.1 Higher: introversion; Lower: extroversion

                                    V.2 Higher: societal norm-favoring; Lower:  societal  norm-doubting

                                    V.3 Higher: Self-actualized and fulfilled; Lower:  not self-actualized or fulfilled


Excerpt from the California Psychological Inventory Administrator's Guide, 1992.



Table 2. CPI Means of Problem Dog Owners and Controls

                                Problem Dog              Control Group
                             Owners (n = 42)                (n = 12)                            Mean

CPI scale                       Mean          S.D.          Mean            S.D.        Difference           t           P value

Dominance                     20.7           5.9            25.8             4.3             -5.14           -3.37         .003

Capacity for status         16.0           3.9            19.8             4.0             -3.86           -2.98         .008

Sociability                      19.6           5.2            22.8             3.6             -3.21           -2.46         .021*

Social Presence            23.5           5.1            25.6             4.9             -2.08           -1.29         .211

Self Acceptance           17.2           3.7            18.8             3.2             -1.64           -1.51         .147

Independence                17.5           4.0            20.0             3.8             -2.50           -2.00         .061

Empathy                         19.7           4.1            23.3             4.7             -3.51           -2.35         .032*

Responsibility                25.2           4.7            27.5             3.8             -2.26           -1.73         .098

Socialization                  30.5           5.4            32.4             3.7             -1.87           -1.39         .175

Self control                    23.8           5.3            24.3             7.5              -.57             -.25          .808

Good impression           19.7           5.7            20.6             6.2              -.87             -.44          .668

Communality                  35.3           2.1            36.3             1.6             -1.07           -1.87         .073

Sense of                        31.5           4.5            33.4             2.7             -1.92           -1.84         .075
well being

Tolerance                      22.2           4.5            23.2             3.2              -.98             -.84          .406

Achieve-conform          27.5           4.1            29.7             2.8             -2.12           -2.07         .048*

Achieve-                       24.9           5.6            25.3             3.4              -.45             -.35          .731


Intellectual                      29.0           5.7            32.2             3.1             -3.17           -2.54         .016*


Psych                            16.5           3.5            16.2             2.2               .36               .43           .669


Flexibility                        13.8           3.9            14.2             3.2              -.38             -.34          .731

Feminine                        18.5           3.7            17.1             4.1              1.46             1.12          .277


V1 AXIS                         19.5           5.7            15.3             6.5              4.12             1.99          .063

V2 AXIS                         21.6           4.2            23.8             4.2             -2.19           -1.58         .132

V3 AXIS                         37.6           9.5            40.4             5.1             -2.82           -1.35         .185
Bolded CPI scale descriptions and p values denote significant results (p = < .01).

* denotes significant difference at p = < .05



Table 3. Demographics of Owners (Age and Sex) and Dogs (Age, Sex, Neuter Status and Breed)

                                                   Experimental (n =42)                    Control (n = 12)                 

                                                  Mean                 SE                    Mean                SE             P Value

Dog's Age (y)                              3.9                  4.3                      6.9                18.6         0.20, 0.08
                                                                                                                                   parametric analysis)

Owner's Age (y)                        41.4                 1.4                     45.8                3.6               0.19


                                                   Male              Female                 Male             Female

Dog's Sex (%)                            64.3                35.7                    41.7               58.3              0.14


Owner's Sex (%)                       14.3                85.7                    25.0               75.0              0.32


                                                Neutered      Non-neutered         Neutered     Non-neutered

% of Dogs Neutered                  92.9                 7.1                     91.7                8.3               0.65


                                                   Pure               Mixed                  Pure              Mixed

% of Pure vs. Mixed Breed        81.0                19.0                    91.7                8.3               0.35


No. of Different Breeds in Group 24                   10


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