Is there a 'top dog' in your home?

Hungry Dog

Dogs are social animals, and in a group of dogs they are happiest when there is a clear structure within the “pack”. But how is their position in the pack determined?

Researchers in Hungary recently studied the hierarchical relationships of companion dogs in multi-dog households, and found that friendlier dogs tend to come lower down the pecking order. Conversely, those that are more extraverted tend to rank higher. Older dogs are also more dominant, suggesting that dogs may become more authoritative as they mature.

The research team from the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest designed an online survey for owners of multiple dogs. The responses gave data on 1,082 dogs, all of whom were over one year old as both personality and social behaviour can rapidly change in puppyhood.

Smiley Boxer Dog

The study included an assessment of dogs’ individual personalities using the ‘Big Five’ personality traits: extraversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.

Results showed that three personality traits — extraversion, openness and conscientiousness — were more likely to be seen in dogs with a higher social rank, while the more agreeable or friendly dogs scored lower on dominance.

As personality can slowly change with age, the researchers looked at whether the results still hold regardless of the dogs’ age.

“We found negative correlations between age and extraversion and age and openness while these traits have positive associations with rank,” said study author Kata Vékony.

“Agreeableness had a similarly negative correlation with age and a negative association with the dominance score: older dogs are less agreeable, more agreeable dogs rank lower.”

The researchers also asked owners about their opinions on which of their dogs is the dominant one and checked if the answer correlated with the calculated dominance score. They found that owners can judge the hierarchy between their dogs with “considerable accuracy”.

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