Do Shelter Dogs Differ from Owned Dogs


Despite the great number of shelter dogs who become excellent companions for their new owners every year, the stereotypes and prejudices about kenneled dogs still exist. People are sometimes concerned that shelter dogs have more behavioral problems than owned dogs. Yet, there is little quantitative research exploring this issue. 

To address this lack of data, our research team used the Monash Canine Personality Questionnaire-Revised (MCPQ-R) which aims to understand dog behavioral tendencies based on human personality adjectives. The MCPQ-R is a newly developed questionnaire for measuring canine personality along five dimensions: extraversion, motivation, training focus, amicability, and neuroticism (Ley et al., 2009). Our goal was to evaluate the shelter dog’s personality traits, along these five dimensions, and compare to personality traits of the dogs in the original sample, owned dogs in Australia.

We conducted a pilot study to answer this question. The original MCPQ-R questionnaire was sent to 118 owners of dogs adopted from Animal Rescue League of Boston. A total of 50 questionnaires were completed.  We found owners rated their dogs very highly on: friendly, intelligent, attentive, sociable and reliable adjectives.

The five canine personality scores of shelter dogs were very similar to scores of owned dogs in the original MCPQ-R in Australia. Significant differences between owned dogs and shelter dogs was found only between scores on the extraversion dimension which describes the perceived energy level of the dog and consists of active, energetic, excitable, hyperactive, lively, restless adjectives. Shelter dogs in our sample tended to be more extraverted than the dogs in the Australian sample. The rest of the four dimensions’ scores (motivation, training focus, amicability and neuroticism) were not significantly different between owned and shelter dogs, though we must treat these results cautiously due to the small sample size of shelter dogs.  It’s possible that the trends would change with a larger sample.  But for a pilot study, the results were interesting and encouraged us to consider a larger project of this sort.

So – do shelter dogs differ from owned dogs?  According to the results of our pilot study, not too much in terms of personality!  And why should they really – many shelter dogs were once owned dogs.