So, how well do you know your best friend?
It may be that when you find yourself taking a personality test — not for yourself but for your dog —- you have too much time on your hands. And that’s exactly how I spent about an hour of my day last week.
Now, let me clarify that I am not complaining about having time to waste. In fact, I love it. But I have to admit that although I have found meaningful fulfillment in retirement, I have also spent some time being silly.
The trigger for this frivolity was an article in the Spring 2013 issue of BARK magazine called Personality Plus: Do Dogs Have It? by Julie Hecht. As with many articles in BARK, there was a lot more information than I’ll probably ever use, like what’s the difference between personality and temperament in dogs, and what methodologies are used to measure them. But the fun began when I read enough to find out about the C-BARQ (the Canine Behavioral and Research Questionnaire) that is available to dog owners everywhere who have access to the Web and who, like me, have time to kill.
So the C-BARQ was created by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, headed up by James Serpell, Ph.D. It is apparently a widely used method of assessment for the behavioral characteristics of dogs. The C-BARQ has 101 questions that use a five point scale for owners to rate their dogs in certain situations, such as when a doorbell rings or a trip to the vet. The questions are sorted into groups that relate to certain dimensions of personality — sociability, playfulness, chase-proneness, aggressiveness and curiosity/fearfulness.
The article goes on to suggest that these five dimensions could be compared to the “Big Five” personality categories for humans — extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness and conscientiousness.
But that feels like a bit of a stretch to me, and anyway, I don’t need more ways to blur the lines between dogs and humans.
I sat down at my computer and went to vetapps.vet.upenn.edu/cbarq (you can also just Google C-BARQ). I decided beforehand that I would do the assessment on Snuffleupagus, our 2-year-old basset, who often drives me crazy with his mischief but has always had the charm to make me forgive him his many, many sins.
So I embarked on a sophisticated analysis of the complexities of His Bassetness’s personality. I worked my way through the questions, the likes of which include: “When you or other members of the household come home after a brief absence, does your dog remain calm, become moderately excited, or is he extremely excitable?” (A barking, bellowing, jumping basset scores on the extreme end — which is not good.) Or, “Does your dog obey the ‘sit’ command never, seldom, sometimes, usually, always?” (Snuff didn’t come out looking so good on that question either.) On the plus side for the Snuffster, he got a “never” for all the questions relating to showing aggression. He may be a canine Bozo, but he is invariably good-natured about it.
After answering all the questions, you go back to the main page and click on “Scores,” and then face your fate. Your dog is scored on 13 subscales and compared to all the other dogs whose owners completed the questionnaire. A gold star means Fluffy scored within the good-normal range. A red flag indicates that your pooch scored below 75 percent of the other dogs. Two red flags means 90 percent of the dogs in this survey are better behaved than yours.
To my great pride and delight, the Snuffster scored gold stars on almost all of the subscales. Admittedly, there were red flags for excitability and energy, and two red flags for trainability, which may explain why we can’t seem to pass that darn Canine Good Citizen evaluation. But all his scores relating to how he gets along with people and other animals were great, which I already know, but it’s always nice to have a computer print-out to validate the point.
The creators of the C-BARQ have also included a section for dog owners about what the scores on the different subscales actually mean. But the comments are very general and offer little in the way of specific suggestions for solving problems other than to recommend contacting a dog trainer. In truth, the only subscales where red flags might be cause for alarm are the ones for aggressiveness and fear, the latter because fearful dogs do occasionally bite in self-defense if they feel threatened.
The rest relate more to what you and I can put up with. And the authors do offer words of encouragement.
Most of problem behaviors in dogs can be remedied, or at least improved, through training, managing the dog’s environment or some combination of the two. For Snuff, I think I just have to wait him out. When he’s older, he’s not going to be such a lummox (I hope), in which case he’s more likely to sit when I say “sit,” right? Anyway, I hope you and your pooch score well on the C-BARQ.
Nancy Carlson can be reached at email@example.com.