Introverted dogs

Extroverts and introverts are personality types we tend to prescribe to people who are generally outgoing (in the case of extroverts) and those who are quieter and reserved (introverts). We almost exclusively refer to these behaviours in relation to the humans around us, but have you ever considered that these personality traits may also be shared by companion animals?

Veterinary behaviourist Dr Jacqui Ley works on this topic of diagnosing introversion in dogs and has given us some pointers.

So, what behaviours does one look for in an introverted dog? In humans, introverts tend to have a reserved nature – that is, they are slow to show their feelings and need time to process their emotions. In dogs, introversion may present as one that is quiet in unfamiliar company, but playful and exuberant around those that are familiar. The introverted dog may tire quickly in busy environments and may remove itself from noisy situations.

It is important not to mistaken an introverted dog for a shy or withdrawn one. Shy dogs tend to worry about interactions, which can be a cause of anxiety for them. By contrast, introverted dogs tend not to care for interactions, either with humans or other dogs. One may get a look of acknowledgment and may even be allowed a pat, otherwise be ignored by the dog. Withdrawn dogs display considerably diminished reactions to normal stimuli, whereas the introvert will react in time.

As Dr Ley notes, introversion is by no means a negative trait. Introverts are generally happy in their non-interactions and a healthy introvert is capable of socialising and adding new ‘familiars’ to its small circle of friends.

But the reserved nature of introverted dogs does make it a challenge to assess them. Their lack of obvious
behaviours means that one needs to be vigilant in their observation – introverts explore unfamiliar environments with less vigour and excitement than their fellow extroverts. Dr Ley also stresses the importance of asking the right questions of the owner to extract more in-depth information. Such questions may include the type of greeting the dog gives family members compared with strangers or how the dog typically reacts to rowdy environments.

Correctly diagnosing an introverted dog can give insight into other behavioural problems and often requires more tailored treatment regimens. Anxiety in introverted dogs can often go unnoticed, but beneath the calm and reserved exterior of introverts stress and anxiety can be lurking. Therapies for treating introverted dogs are different from treating extroverts, so it’s important to make an accurate diagnosis. By correctly identifying introversion in anxious dogs, owners can immediately take small steps to help ease their dog’s anxiety – steps that may not be part of the treatment regimen for non-introverted dogs. For instance, reduced physical interaction, such as petting, of an introverted dog can significantly help reduce stress and would not necessarily be recommended for a diagnosis of extroversion.

This highlights the complexities of the canine emotional state and how much we still have to learn about the intricacies of dog behaviour.
Nidhi Sodhi
Science Writer

This article appeared in the June 2017 issue of the Australian Veterinary Journal

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