Some dogs are more pessimistic than others, a new study has shown.
To do that, researchers measured positive and negative emotional states in dogs objectively and non-invasively by teaching dogs to associate two different sounds with whether they would be rewarded with milk or water.
Once canines had learnt the discrimination task, they were presented with “ambiguous tones”. The theory is if dogs responded to the new sound, it showed they expected good things to happen, or be rewarded with milk rather than water.
Melissa Starling led the study at the university. She argued the research is exciting as it offers both researchers and dog owners an insight into the outlook of canines.
She said: “This research is exciting because it measures positive and negative emotional states in dogs objectively and non-invasively. It offers researchers and dog owners an insight into the outlook of dogs and how that changes.
“Finding out as accurately as possible whether a particular dog is optimistic or pessimistic is particularly helpful in the context of working and service dogs, and has important implications for animal welfare.
“Of the dogs we tested, we found more were optimistic than pessimistic, but it is too early to say if that is true of the general dog population.
“Pessimistic dogs appeared to be much more stressed by failing a task than optimistic dogs; they would whine, pace and avoid repeating the task, while the optimistic dogs would appear unfazed and continue.
“This research could help working dog trainers select dogs best suited to working roles. If we knew how optimistic or pessimistic the best candidates for a working role are, we could test dogs’ optimism early and identify good candidates for training for that role.
“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.”