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Pessimist Pooches Possess Cynical Outlooks

Update Date: Sep 18, 2014 04:55 PM EDT
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Some pooches are hardwired to be pessimistic, according to a new study on dogs.

New research from the University of Sydney reveals that some dogs are significantly more cynical than their other canine counterparts.

"This research is exciting because it measures positive and negative emotional states in dogs objectively and non-invasively. It offers researchers and dog owners an insight into the outlook of dogs and how that changes," researcher Dr. Melissa Starling, from the Faculty of Veterinary Science, said in a news release.

"Finding out as accurately as possible whether a particular dog is optimistic or pessimistic is particularly helpful in the context of working and service dogs and has important implications for animal welfare," Starling added.

Dogs involved in the study were trained to associate two different sounds with milk or water. After learning the discrimination tasks, the dogs were exposed to "ambiguous" tones.

Researchers defined optimism as responding to ambiguous tones, and measured enthusiasm by how many tones the dogs responded to. For instance, very optimistic dogs respond to tones that sound more like those associated with water.

"Of the dogs we tested we found more were optimistic than pessimistic but it is too early to say if that is true of the general dog population," said Starling.

"Pessimistic dogs appeared to be much more stressed by failing a task than optimistic dogs. They would whine and pace and avoid repeating the task while the optimistic dogs would appear unfazed and continue," she added.

"This research could help working dog trainers select dogs best suited to working roles. If we knew how optimistic or pessimistic the best candidates for a working role are, we could test dogs' optimism early and identify good candidates for training for that role. A pessimistic dog that avoids risks would be better as a guide dog while an optimistic, persistent dog would be more suited to detecting drugs or explosives," Starling concluded.

The study "Canine Sense and Sensibility: Tipping Points and Response Latency Variability as an Optimism Index in a Canine Judgment Bias Assessment" was published in the journal PLoS ONE.

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