Your dog freaks out in thunderstorms or won't let you leave the room without him. He gets aggressive toward other dogs on walks or is nervous when he hears you rustle the garbage bag.
Are these simply quirks of his personality or are you somehow to blame? That's what researchers from Tufts University are hoping to find out.
The Animal Ownership Interaction Study will follow owners and their dogs for two years, asking questions at six-month intervals. The study will look at the personalities of owners and the behaviors of their dogs to establish how an owner's personality and psychological well-being affects a pet’s behavior in positive or negative ways.
"A lot of people get things wrong when it comes to interacting with their dog," says lead researcher Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the animal behavior program at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts and author of several books including "The Dog Who Loved Too Much."
"What is it about some people's personality or emotional status that somehow feeds into the emotional status of the dog and causes it to change, sometime for better and sometimes for worse?" asks Dodman.
For example, the researchers might learn how a person with a nervous or emotional demeanor could impact a dog versus someone with a confident, calm personality.
"Do people fan the flames of compulsive behaviors in their pets?" asks Dodman.
The goals of the study are relatively ambitious.
Because behavioral issues are one of the main reasons dogs are returned to shelters, says Dodman, he hopes the study results will help people better understand how they can affect their relationship with their pets and how they might be influencing behaviors. If dog owners know what they're doing, they can learn to modify their actions to change the way their pet responds.
"The ultimate goal is to help people to manage behavior problems and improve the human/animal bond so they don’t give up on their dogs," he says. "We're trying to improve the relationship so the dog trusts the person and the person trusts the dog."
How to get involved
So far, several hundred people (and their pets) have signed up for the study, but the researchers would ideally like to have several thousand.
To take part, you just need to own a dog and have had him for at least two months. The first set of survey questions are about your dog, asking you to rate qualities like his excitability, aggression, training issues and any fear or anxiety issues. The second set of questions are about you and your personality.
When you are asked to answer questions again at six-month intervals, you will only answer again about your dog — assuming your personality hasn't changed, but perhaps his issues have.
Says Dodman, "It's very scientifically accurate and will produce
results that will really change the way people will treat their dogs."