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Puppies got personality!

In recent years the study of animal personality has gained increasing popularity, with the dog being one of the most utilized models in this field.

As part of my PhD studies, I've carried out extensive work on the assessment of dogs' personality and especially of puppies. With my supervisor and colleagues from Universita' degli Studi di Parma and Universita degli Studi di Milano we developed and validated a simple arena test for 8-weeks old puppies. For three years I've recruited breeders and went to assess their puppies...yes, correct, my PhD was all about getting assaulted by cute puppies!

Tough I know, but someone had to do it right? The test was very simple, puppies were free to explore a fenced area with lots of stimuli inside like a fake dog, a child-like doll, a mirror, a toy and a stranger (me!).

We found that puppies do show a very clear personality profile already at 2 months of age! (Here is the full article published on PloS ONE and open access)

the arena test: puppies were introduced in a fenced area with lots of stimuli to explore

Representation of the stimuli inside the test arena (credits Barnard et al. 2016, PLoS ONE 11(3): e0149831)

At the end, (with the help of some very lucky students!) I gathered the data for almost 400 puppies of several popular breeds. It is known that breeds differ in their personality, but can we detect these differences already when they are puppies?!

Well, we compared 74 litters from 12 different breeds and we found that, although the expression of personality traits was to some extent affected by breed, the highest portion of variability was explained by litters differences. This means that if you are going to buy/adopt a puppy, don't rely just on the breed historical description, breeding lines and rearing environment may shape pups of the same breed in extremely different ways. Always ask to see the parents of the litter and the siblings before choosing the right pooch for you, and avoid compulsive on-line shopping of puppies!!

This last paper has just been published on Scientific Reports and I'm so excited about it! The paper is also open access and you can find it here Barnard et al 2017 Scientific Reports 7: 1802(2017).

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