Giving You Paws for Thought

Researchers have recently discovered some amazing things about dogs that will absolutely astound you … if you're a cat owner.

In one study, scientists found that dogs may have personalities. That is, dogs apparently have enough unique characteristics and traits that you can actually tell them apart.

If you've ever been owned by more than one dog, you know this already. However, as a self-confessed dog companion you have shown yourself to be mentally suspect, and thus scientists don't trust your judgment. This is because you regularly allow yourself to be smooched by something that may have just drunk out of the toilet.

So, how did scientists come up with hard proof of doggy differences? They recruited a thousand Labrador Retrievers and had them fill out the “What's Your Party Style?” quiz in a recent issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. A control group of was asked to complete the “Which Star Trek Captain Do You Most Resemble?” quiz. (Incidentally, scientists had to choose this particular breed; otherwise it wouldn't have been a lab test.)

The results showed that 40 percent of the test subjects wanted to play phaser fetch with James T. Kirk, while 30 percent wanted to discuss time travel with Captain Janeway over a cup of coffee. The remaining subjects went to the door and asked to be let out.

Okay, not really. What the study did do was have dog owners rate their dogs for various personality traits (aggressiveness, curiosity, friendliness) and then had strangers rate the dogs the same way. Most of the time, the owner's assessment and the stranger's assessment agreed, thus proving that dogs probably do have recognizably different personalities. Either that or they downloaded the personality test answers for their owners from the Internet.

A second, more interesting bit of research has demonstrated that dogs are very good at reading human social cues — better, in fact, than their cousin the wolf, or our cousin, the chimpanzee.

In this study, a graduate student approached a group of dogs, a group of chimpanzees and a pack of wolves, pointed at a wet spot on the carpet, and said “Bad! Very bad!”

No less than 100 percent of the dogs responded by ducking and whining apologetically. About half of the chimpanzees threw a banana at the investigator, while the other half pointed indignantly at the dog. No one is sure what happened with the wolves, as they're still waiting for the graduate student to get out of hospital.

Right, okay, what really happened was that researchers hid a bit of food under one of two cups. The experimenter would then indicate which of the two cups the animal should investigate by either looking at the right cup or gesturing at it. Dogs were much better at recognizing the clues given by the human.

Again though, if you have ever been owned by a dog, you know this already. This is because you have to spell things like “car ride” or “chocolate” or “veterinarian” so that your dog won't know what you're talking about. Your dog will wake from a sound sleep and go to the door because he can tell you're wrapping up that phone call. Or she will hide because she can tell that's flea shampoo you've just taken out of the medicine cabinet, and not your own body wash and loofah.

Will there ever be definitive proof about cat personalities or a cat's ability to read humans? We'll need more subtle and sophisticated tests. When asked to fill out the personality quiz, 95 percent of cats tested bit the investigator's ankle and wandered off. When asked to find the food under the cup, 97 percent of cats scratched the investigator's ankle and wandered off.

So for now I guess, the dog is having its day, while the cat remains resolutely out of the bag.

To read more of Chandra's work, visit

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage