Quick, what comes to mind when you think of a dog? Chances are you picture a big old grin, tongue hanging out, and a cheerful wag of the tail. But not every pup may fit that happy-go-lucky stereotype. A new study out of the University of Sydney found that some dogs are more inclined to see their water bowls as half empty, so to speak.
To test whether the dogs were optimists or pessimists, researchers played two distinct sounds for the dogs, and taught them to associate one tone with a reward of milk, and another with plain old water.
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Then, researchers played ambiguous tones that matched neither of the previous two sounds, to see how the dogs would react. If a dog responded to the vague tone, researchers considered it optimistic, that it expects good things to happen. Some dogs were even classified as extremely optimistic, responding to sounds that were close to the tone played before the water was offered. A pessimist pup, however, wouldn’t react to the ambiguous tones.
Think your dog is a cynic? Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with that, researchers say. Here’s why:
He could make for a great service dog.
Researchers hope this study can better distinguish which dogs will do better in certain service rolls—they’ve found that a pessimistic dog that avoids risks would be a better fit as a guide dog, while an optimistic, persistent dog would do well detecting explosives or drugs.
He’s still happy.
A pessimistic dog doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a grump. Sure, he’s more of a cautious pooch, but he’s probably more content with the ordinary, researchers say—and won’t need too much excitement to make him happy.
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He just needs a little encouragement.
Researchers found that pessimistic dogs appeared to be much more stressed by failing a task than optimistic dogs, so they may need a to take baby steps when trying something new. “To get your dog to expand its world, you’re going to want to do small things more often,” says Justin Silver, dog trainer in New York City and author of the new book Language of Dogs. For example, if you hope to take your dog on a hiking trip, try to go for a mini hike every week leading up to it, extending it by just a few minutes each time. When the day of your big hike arrives, your dog will feel more in his comfort zone and safer by your side.