Whether dogs can be introverted or extroverted is an interesting topic that is worthy of pondering.
Most dog owners can attest that they have had dogs known for being social butterflies, while some others prefer to be more on the aloof side.
How can you tell whether a dog is introvert or extrovert? And more specifically, what signs do introverted dogs display? What makes introvert dogs so different?
To gain a better insight, it helps to firstly discover what being an introvert ultimately entails and what happens exactly in the brain of an introvert. With this knowledge in mind, it is then possible to make a more accurate assessment.
An Insight into Introversion
Name the word introvert and you're likely to imagine a person reading a book by a crackling fireplace, versus the quintessential extrovert known for mingling with other fellows at the local Tiki bar.
As the word introversion implies, introverts are drawn to their internal world, made of thoughts and imagination.
Introverts also show other distinct traits such as preferring the company of a few selected friends rather than participating in flashy social events and they would rather stick to the safe side than being active risk-takers.
But what ultimately makes introverts so introvert? Turns out, there are different dynamics going on internally which makes them pick quiet activities over the more rowdy, highly energized ones.
A Look into Carl Jung’s Studies
Carl Jung in the 1920s coined the terms introvert and extrovert. Through his studies, he discovered how some people felt energized through social interactions and felt uncomfortable when alone, whereas some others felt energized sticking to quiet environments, while social interactions drained them emotionally.
While it is true that most people have a tendency towards being either introvert or extrovert, it's important to point out that nobody can be completely one way or another. As Carl Jung points out: “Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.”
The Impact of Dopamine on Introverts
But what ultimately causes a preference for being an introvert or extrovert, and most of all, what is happening at the brain level?
Turns out, introverts and extroverts respond differently to the neurotransmitter dopamine. What is dopamine though and how does it impact the brain?
Dopamine is known for triggering a sensation of wellbeing. It is released in the pleasure center of the brain and makes us feel happy. For a good reason, dopamine is often described as being the "feel good neurotransmitter."
The right amount of dopamine paves the path to learning and productivity and contributes to feelings of alertness, focus, motivation and and happiness.
Recent research has demonstrated that dopamine release is more about the seeking system than the actual reward.
When engaging in a desired activity, the surge of dopamine therefore reinforces the anticipation and focus on satisfying the urge to engage in the activity in the future. It's all a cycle of anticipation, reward and reinforcement. Call it the "thrill of the hunt", so to say.
While equal amounts of dopamine are released in the brains of introverts and extroverts, one main difference between the two is that the dopamine reward network is more active in the brains of extroverts causing them to feel energized, while introverts will feel drained and overstimulated.
According to Scientific American, it is therefore thanks to the high reward sensitivity of extroverts that they seek out potentially rewarding positive social interactions. This is also the reason why extroverts display behaviors meant to increase social attention (e.g. friendliness, smiling, etc).
Introverts, on the other hand, feel overstimulated by too much dopamine.
The Role of Acetylcholine in Introverts
While extroverts are addicted to the dopamine release due to their high reward sensitivity, introverts use an entirely different neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine, as their more dominant pathway.
Acetylcholine is known to impact attention and learning and stimulates a good feeling when thinking and reading.
The Each Their Own
Interestingly, the nervous system is divided into two main parts: the sympathetic nervous system related to the “fight, fright, or flight” response; and the parasympathetic nervous system, related to the "rest and digest system."
While extroverts are connected to the dopamine/adrenaline, energy-spending, sympathetic nervous system, introverts are connected to the acetylcholine, energy-conserving, parasympathetic nervous system, points out psychotherapist Marti Olsen Laney, one of America's leading authorities on introversion in her book: "The Introvert Advantage (How To Thrive In An Extrovert World)."
Yes, Dogs Can be Introverts Too!
Yes, dogs can be introverts too, just as it happens in humans. In dogs though, we must also consider the impact of selective breeding.
For, example, there are several dog breeds known for being aloof, such as Chow Chows Akitas, German Shepherds and Shiba Inus. These dogs tend to be suspicious of strangers and more on the reserved side.
In contrast, Labrador retrievers, Golden Retrievers tend to be the extroverts of the canine world. These dogs are happy-go-lucky beings who love to meet and greet people and other dogs.
Signs of Introversion in Dogs
Literature reports various signs of introversion in dogs. Even Pavlov has described behavior traits in dogs which prompted him to talk about introvert and extrovert dogs.
In the book "Learning Theory and Behaviour Modification," Stephen Walker discusses how Pavlov assumed that extrovert dogs were very excitable, having a predisposition to excitation in the brain, while the introverted dogs were very "inhibitable."
Lisa Tenzin Tolma, in the book: "The Heartbeat at Your Feet, A Practical, Compassionate New Way to Train Your Dog" portrays introverted dogs as easily overwhelmed, often finding excessive stimulation or excitement difficult to cope with.
John Fisher, in the book: "Why Does My Dog" explains that, when it comes to anxiety, introvert dogs are more likely to self mutilate, directing the tension inwards, while extrovert dogs tend to be inclined to destroying things, directing their tension towards something else.
Given the choice, introvert dogs prefer watching from a distance undisturbed, with no excessive fussing. They are prone to enjoying a quiet life with little disruptions and following a routine that makes them feel feel safe and secure.
Introvert dogs do best matched up with calm owners who will put in the effort to help these dogs come out of their shells.
Signs of Extroversion in Dogs
Extroverted dogs, on the other hand, are social butterflies who enjoy being in the center of attention. They eagerly greet visitors, love to initiate play and thrive on novel experiences. They will also come up with a variety of creative methods to gain the attention they crave when they feel ignored.
Extrovert dogs need boundaries to prevent their exuberance from causing them to become overstimulated. They do best matched up with active, sociable owners, as they could become bored and destructive when left with not much to do.