Ramey, M. M. (2016). Personality in Coevolved Species: Olfactory Navigation by Search Dogs and their Human Handlers. Honor’s Thesis, Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley.

Michelle Ramey

Abstract

The domestication of canids that began as early as 26,000 years ago has resulted in a unique coevolution of dogs and humans: we are able to form interspecies bonds that parallel those formed between members of a species, both physiologically and behaviorally. From the advent of their domestication to modern times, dogs have assumed working roles to assist in tasks from shepherding to bomb-sniffing, and their performance on these tasks heavily relies on cooperative decision making with their handlers. While it is still a relatively new area, studies on the topic suggest that the personality of dog and owner may have an influence on working dog performance. In the present pilot study, we investigated whether there are personality differences between search dogs and nonworking pet dogs as well as their owners, developed measures to assess performance on a scent-tracking task, and explored associations between personality traits and performance on the task. For the personality survey portion of the study, we administered questionnaires to owners of search dogs and owners of pet dogs about their dogs’ personalities as well as their own. In order to investigate olfactory tracking, we recorded the search dogs’ performance in a scent-tracking task using GPS, and looked for relationships between their tracking performance and their personality traits. We developed two primary measures for assessing scent-tracking performance: error, which captures the dogs’ deviation from the original scent trail, and flexibility, which is the ratio of the length of the original trail to the length of the dogs’ path. Results suggest that search dogs are more trainable, actively engaged, playful, and excitable than their nonworking counterparts, that error is associated positively with owners’ openness and negatively with owners’ conscientiousness, and that flexibility is negatively associated with dogs’ fearfulness.

And Michelle begins her Ph.D. in neuroscience at UC Davis in September – congratulations, Michelle!