Your Dog Might Be a Pessimist
Research indicates 'pessimistic' pups give up more easily, seem to expect the worst
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 19, 2014 12:16 PM CDT
Are dogs who give up pessimists—or just realists?   (Shutterstock)
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(Newser) – Certain dogs apparently feel like they're perpetually in the doghouse, according to a University of Sydney study that says some dogs are pessimists, getting demoralized more easily than other dogs and just giving up on tasks when they've had enough. The research, published this week in the Plos One journal, isn't saying that pessimistic dogs are necessarily sad: It's just that they're more risk-averse because they expect the worst after experiencing setbacks and are more likely than their more "optimistic" canine counterparts to just accept the way things are rather than try to change them.

The 40 dogs in the study had to touch a target upon hearing two tones two octaves apart; one tone would reward them with milk, the other with water, the Washington Post reports. It's when the researchers sandwiched "ambiguous" tones in between the two main ones that some dogs' moods started going south: Certain dogs kept hitting the targets no matter what reward resulted, while "pessimistic" dogs stopped touching the target altogether after not receiving the coveted milk. The Post notes that perhaps the dogs aren't pessimists at all, but realists—one University of Colorado professor says he's curious if they're actually pessimistic or just got tired of waiting. But the results could have useful training applications: Dogs that take risks could be used for tasks that require more persistence, such as searching for explosives, while wary pups could serve as more careful guide dogs. (In other dog news, the Bay Area is overrun with thousands of chihuahuas.)