Grumpy Dogs Outperform Friendlies on Some Learning Tests

Do you have a cranky dog? He might have hidden talents.

In a recent study in Hungary, researchers found that dogs with personality characteristics they grouped under the rubric of “cranky” were better able to learn from a stranger than more easy-going dogs.

This is certainly a limited skill, but owners of cranky dogs can be happy with all kinds of good news.

Consider some of the characteristics that researchers place in the cranky category: quick to bark, growl or crack when disturbed, does not come when called out, keeps food to keep it from other dogs or people, active and restless. This is the dog that pet shelters say needs a very special owner. This is the dog that very special owners should always explain to their friends. It’s Fluffy’s chair, they say. This is Fluffy’s rug. In fact, this is Fluffy’s house, all of it. Let’s go to a cafe.

Peter Pongracz, whose specialty at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest is the study of dog-human interactions, reported the recent findings in the journal Animals, under a long headline that begins with “Grumpy dogs are intelligent learners” . Pongracz conducted the experiments because he had noticed in previous research that dominant and submissive dogs in households that had more than one dog exhibited differences in learning styles.

In both studies, the dog’s task remained the same. Pongracz and his colleagues placed a favorite treat or toy prominently behind a V-shaped wire fence. Instinctively, the dogs would try to go straight for the treat, which unfortunately didn’t work. They had to start by moving away from the treat to go around the fence and approach it. To the mind of the dog, this is a very strange idea. The wonderfully smelling treat is right here. Why would you walk away from it?

“It’s a pretty tough job for a dog when he’s alone,” Pongracz said.

Dogs are social learners, which means they can see what another (dog or person) is doing and then learn to do the same. In previous work, dogs that occupied a dominant position in a multi-dog household had no hope of learning by watching other dogs while the more submissive dogs, perhaps trained to keep an eye on it. that the other dogs were doing, were doing very well. But when one person demonstrated the solution, so did all the dogs.

Pongracz decided that in the recent experiment he would examine the relationship between dogs and owners. The owners filled out a questionnaire. And the dogs themselves also did the tests. After performing a statistical analysis of the results, both from the owner survey and from the dog tests, the researchers concluded that a set of dog characteristics ranging from high activity levels to snapping or clicking grunts all belonged to the same category.

Tagging this particular group was difficult, Pongracz said, “because these dogs aren’t exactly aggressive, but they have this cranky attitude.”

“Grumpy” is the best fit.

For the recent experiment, dogs had to retrieve the object placed behind a V-shaped fence. Grumpy and pleasant dogs did the same when they had to solve the problem on their own or if their owners showed them the way. to get the treat.

But the Grumpy Dogs did significantly better when a stranger showed the way to get the item.

“They were more attentive,” Pongracz said. Why is a question that remains unanswered.

Monique Udell, director of the Human-Animal Interaction Laboratory at Oregon State University, which was not involved in the research, said it showed, like a growing body of other work, ” that the individuality of dogs and the experience of life influences performance and all kinds of tasks.

But, she said, the characteristics lumped under the cranky category seemed to go in two directions.

Canine educator and researcher, Udell said trainers have long recognized that dogs that appear overly energetic and even hyperactive as pets can excel at tasks such as herding, obedience or working as a dog. watch dog.

“The refusal to come back when called” fits that kind of dog, as does less inhibition, she said. The other characteristics listed in the study’s cranky category related to aggression, such as watching over food, were inconsistent with his experience.

So she wondered if anything other than a bad mood could underlie all of the behavioral tendencies lumped into this category. Cynthia Otto, director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, who was not involved in the study, said the latest article lacked details on the history of the life of the dogs and the nature of the training they had received. experimented. There are “so many variables that go into our relationships,” she said.

Certainly, the variability in the dogs’ personalities and their suitability for different tasks was undeniable, she noted.

At the Working Dog Center, “we allow dogs to choose their careers based on their personalities, interactions and relationships,” she said. She pointed out that races are not always a reliable guide to personality, due to individual differences.

Pongracz has four dogs, all of the same breed of the Hungarian Shepherd Dog, Mudi, and each has a distinct personality.

“But all of them bark a lot,” he said. “They are loud.”

Comments are closed.