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    jessica hekman

    Updates from Jessica, a Darwin’s Ark researcher.

    Well, this was an exciting week. This week I looked to see if larger scale personality profiles differed between breeds. By “larger scale personality profiles” I mean – statistics speak – that I took the 200+ questions we ask Darwin’s Dogs participants and collapsed them into 24 factors. A factor is a clump of closely correlated questions. For example, factor 1 contains 20 questions all related to whether the dog likes food a lot: does he lick his bowl? Does he seem to be hungry all the time? Does he ever turn down treats?

    For each dog, I can assign a score per factor – we say this is how the dog “loads” onto the factor. So, for example, my dog Jenny, for whom food is very important, gets a higher score on Factor 1 than my dog Dashiell, for whom food is nice but not the center of the universe.

    Our earlier analyses had suggested there wasn’t much difference on how dogs of different breeds loaded onto each factor. However, we have a lot more data now. And I tried a different analysis – I used logistic regression, a way of asking whether, given a dog’s breed, we can predict anything about the value of the factor (will it be higher or lower?). I controlled for age and size, two things that we know affect personality, in this analysis. My first test was just comparing Labrador Retrievers to other purebreds.

    We did see statistically significant results this time! Labs do seem to like food more than other breeds, on average (as our individual question-by-question analysis also suggested). The median values (similar to the average) aren’t all that much higher for labs – there’s a statistically significant difference, but not a very big one – but when you plot out the distribution of values, you can see the skew. It indicates that labs are indeed more likely to be obsessed with food.

    Looking at these plots, I reflect again that while there do seem to be some differences between breeds, every dog is an individual. If you get a lab, you are more likely to get a dog who’s very interested in food than if you get a dog from another breed – but it is not for sure. Just knowing a dog’s breed does not definitively predict his personality. It just makes some things a bit more likely than others. So, as always, when thinking about your next dog, don’t assume that a dog will be a particular way just because he is of a particular breed – meet him and keep an open mind about who he will turn out to be!


    kristen johnson 2

    Interesting! It makes so much sense but it’s so fun to have the science to back it up.


    jessica hekman

    Yes, you can’t know for sure if it’s true until you SCIENCE IT (and to be fair, often not even then…)

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