What You Can Discover About Your Dog's Personality from Walks

Dog Leaders and their Followers

Story at-a-glance -

  • A team of researchers has determined that how dogs behave on group walks provides quite a bit of information about their personalities, including whether they are leaders or followers.
  • Dogs who take the lead on walks tend to be older, more easily trained and controlled, more dominant, and also more aggressive than followers.
  • The dogs in the study, all Vizslas, voluntarily assumed leader-follower roles. They chose who to follow, and the leaders did not force others to follow them.
  • Path tracking technology may ultimately help coordinate search and rescue dog pairs based on their ability to work well together.

By Dr. Becker

According to a recent study, when a group of dogs goes on walks with their owner, the routes they take can provide insight into their personality traits and whether they are leaders or followers.

As It Turns Out, Walking Your Dog Can Be Very Revealing…

A team of researchers from Oxford University, Eötvös University in Budapest and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences put harnesses equipped with GPS units on 6 dogs. They tracked the movements of the dogs as they took fourteen 30- to 40-minute group walks with their owner.

The researchers observed that the dogs’ travel was influenced by differences in their personalities and the social structure of the entire group. According to Dr. Mate Nagy of the department of zoology at Oxford, the results “showed that it is possible to determine the social ranking and personality traits of each dog from their GPS movement data.”

Watching a group of dogs on just one walk is usually not enough to identify the leader of the pack, according to Nagy, but if you observe them on multiple walks over a longer period of time, it’s easier to recognize which dog is most often followed by the others. “Overall, the collective motion of the pack is strongly influenced by an underlying social network,” says Nagy.

How dogs behave on walks can reveal a great deal about their trainability, controllability, aggressive tendencies, age, and dominance. In the study, dogs that consistently took the lead were older and more easily trained and controlled, but also more aggressive than the dogs who were followers. As you might suspect, leader dogs often also had higher dominance behavior in everyday situations.

Path Tracking May Be Helpful in Evaluating Search and Rescue Dogs to Determine Which Ones Work Well Together

Pack leadership is well-established in wolves, but experts have yet to determine whether groups of domestic dogs also have a social hierarchy.

The dogs in the study were Vizslas, a breed known for being good-natured and trainable. In the study, the dogs voluntarily assumed leader-follower relationships. They chose who to follow, and the leaders did not force others to follow them.

The study, published in January 2014 in PLOS Computational Biology,1 shows the ability of “path tracking” to measure social behavior and therefore, a dog’s personality. This technology might eventually help in assessing search and rescue dogs to determine which ones work well together.