It is often said that people will gravitate towards dogs that look like themselves. I am probably guilty of it as well, Ben was tall and lanky as am I, so maybe there was a slight resemblance, minus the red hair. So, is it true, or just a trick of our mind? And, if it is true, and we choose dogs that look like us, why do we do it?
A study by Roy and Christenfeld found that there may be two ways people can look like their dogs. Either they select a dog that has similar features, or the similarity grows over time. To find answers to these questions Roy and Christenfeld took photographs of 45 dogs (pure breed mixed breed) and their owners. They then asked 28 people to try to pair the dog with the correct owner.
The results showed that in fact there is a correlation between people choosing a dog that does resemble themselves. This was based on appearance and perceived personality. The study also found that there was no correlation between length of ownership and looks, suggesting that people do in fact make a choice from the beginning towards a dog that resembles themselves. However, this was only true for pure breed dogs. It is thought that when it comes to choosing a pure breed dog people have a better knowledge of what the dog will look like over time.
So why do we do it? Perhaps we are hardwired to take care of beings that look like us. Another theory is that people who choose dogs that look like themselves are lacking, either by choice or by design, in meaningful interactions with their own species. This may be true, for I have heard many people remark that they would prefer the company of their dogs over and above the company of people.
A third theory, and my personal favourite, is that people prefer to be connected with things that portray their values and personality, similar to the clothes we wear. A ‘pretty’ lap dog in a handbag may be connected to someone who wears high heels, branded clothing, and takes pride in their appearance. Or, an athletic person will probably enjoy the company of a dog they can go running with so will require their dog to also be, and therefore, look athletic.
Based on this theory it would seem that we would also make judgements about people based on the kind of dog they have. And that even if you don’t know much about dog breeds, just by looking at a dog with their owner you will be making a decision, right or wrong, about that person’s lifestyle and possible values. That’s why a bodybuilding friend of mine, who walked his Maltese, Princess, used to turn heads in the street, it just did not match.
Some owners make the connection even more obvious by dressing their dogs up in certain accessories, such as coats, collars and sunglasses, almost as living labels. There are also instances in history where certain dog breeds have become ‘trendy’. For example, the most popular comment Ben and I used to get was; “I (or my parents) used to own Irish Setters”. Everyone owned an Irish Setter in the ’70s.
On the surface all of this would seem to be a superficial reason to have a dog, and most of us who share our lives with dogs do so for many more reasons, deeper reasons. But how important are looks to us when it comes to our dogs? Why have you chosen the dog you have? Does your dog look like you?