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According to a recent study, dogs show signs of being optimistic or pessimistic. The researchers who performed the study trained the dogs to touch a target that would spurt out either milk or water. They also assigned specific tones to each of the stimuli, one coinciding with milk and the other with water. Once the dogs learned t tell the difference between both the tones, the real experiment began.
What happened next?
Following this, the researchers gave the dogs new tones that lay in between the two they were already familiar with. So, basically they gave the dogs ambiguous signals that said “this one sounds a bit like the milk tone, but isn’t exactly that”. If the dogs thought that it was closer to the milk tone, they touched the target. If they thought that it was closer to the water tone, they didn’t go anywhere near it. Based on the way a dog responded to the ambiguous tone, the researchers were able to tell whether the dog was an optimist or a pessimist. What is even more interesting is the point at which they decided whether the unclear tone meant milk or water. Some of the dogs kept on hitting the target hoping for milk even after it spurt out water, while others gave up quite early.
The experiment started out with 40 dogs and gradually pared the number down to 20. Some dogs did not like milk while others were not persistent enough to learn the difference between both the tones. The study was evenly spread out over a period of two weeks. At the end of it, the researchers concluded that six dogs were optimists, six of them were pessimists and the rest were evenly spread out across the spectrum.
Does environment dictate your dog’s mental outlook?
The researchers postulate that the personality ranking of a dog has a lot to do with his respective background. For instance, a lot of the optimistic dogs were the pets of professional dog trainers. They probably get a lot of physical and mental stimulation at home with clicker training, reinforcement and a lot more. Mot of the pessimistic dogs were recruited from a training program for service dogs.
It is not all that surprising that environment should play such a key role in your dog’s mental outlook. If you are a dog who has spent his entire life in a puppy mill, then you have probably had a very tough life. That might make you express a more pessimistic world view. However, that does not mean that you are a pessimistic individual. If you are moved to a different environment, then you begin to understand that people are enjoyable and safe.