Impulsivity and behaviour problems in dogs: a Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory perspective

Patrizia Piotti, Liam Paul Satchell, Tom Steven Lockhart

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Trait impulsivity is an increasingly relevant topic for human and non-human animal personality research. There are similarities in dog and human manifestations of trait impulsivity at the behavioural, genetic, and neurobiological level. We investigated a well-validated measure of dog impulsivity and responsivity (the Dog Impulsivity Assessment Scale, DIAS) and a neuropsychological theory of human trait approach and avoidance (the Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory of personality, RST). Owners reported their dogs’ dispositional behaviour on the DIAS, an RST scale modified to describe dogs’ behaviour, and a list of common dog behaviour problems. In a sample of 730 dogs, we observed convergence between the RST and the DIAS. There was a negative correlation between RST ‘Behaviour Inhibition System’ and DIAS impulsivity factor (‘Behavioural Regulation’). RST ‘Behavioural Approach System’ correlated positively with DIAS ‘Responsiveness’. The RST ‘Fight-Flight-Freeze System’ (FFFS) and the DIAS ‘Aggression and response to novelty factor were both distinct from other factors. However, the DIAS ‘Aggression and response to novelty’ factor and the RST FFFS explained different aspects of dog behaviour problems. Importantly, whilst the DIAS factors indicated tendencies towards avoidant behaviours, the FFFS discriminated between active and passive avoidance. The findings suggest a partial overlapping between the DIAS and RST scales, and highlights the utility of personality models in investigating behaviour problems in dogs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-110
JournalBehavioural Processes
Early online date9 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


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