Every day I think to myself how much the dogs I see walking around New York City look like their owners. No doubt you’ve had the same thought where you live. The concept has not only fueled many a dog/owner look-alike contest but has also been subjected to a fair amount of scientific analysis. Several studies have probed the psychological mechanisms at work and have confirmed that we do indeed resemble our dogs.
Favoring What Looks Familiar
In an article for Psychology Today, Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, explains that we like things that are familiar and are particularly fond of our own faces because we see them thousands of times each year in reflective surfaces. This makes us want to go for a dog with similar head and facial characteristics. “If the general features of one breed of dog’s face look something like the general features of our own face,” he writes, “then, all other things being equal, that breed should arouse a bit more of a warm and loving response on our part.” Coren conducted a study looking at the relationship between a woman’s hairstyle and the type of dog she preferred. He found that “in general, women with longer hair covering their ears tended to prefer the Springer Spaniel and the Beagle, rating these breeds higher on the dimensions of likeable, friendly, loyal and intelligent. Women with shorter hair and visible ears tended to rate the Siberian Husky and the Basenji more highly on these same dimensions. The reason for this result may have to do with familiarity effects on liking.”
Michael Roy and Nicholas Christenfeld, psychologists from the University of California, San Diego, conducted a study that extended these findings by showing that judges were able to match photos of purebred dogs with their owners in about two thirds of the cases (they didn’t know the dogs or the owners). “Evolutionarily, we’ve adapted to take care of little, nonverbal creatures that resemble us — in most cases, our children,” Nicholas Christenfeld says. “In many ways, pets capitalize on that desire. Many people have bonded with pets the way others have bonded with children.”
We Enjoy Making Dogs Look More Like Us
I’m constantly struck by how owners enhance the physical likenesses between them and their dogs by dressing the pooches in collars, wraps and booties that echo their own garb or by wearing colors that match their dog’s fur.
Swiss photographer Sebastian Magnani has taken things to the next step with Underdogs, a thought-provoking photography project in which he manipulates images of dogs to appear as if they’re wearing their owners’ clothes, and then places the animal portraits alongside shots of the humans. Magnani creates his human-dog composites by taking a photo of the canine and the owner, then combining the two shots in Photoshop on a Wacom tablet using masks and transparencies. He retains the owner’s clothes, accessories and some hair while using the dog’s face, neck and chest.
Magnani’s goal, he says, is “to create a single moment of symbiosis —between man and beast — to be one.” In his project statement he asks the viewer to consider where the “striking resemblance between dog and owner comes from” and to contemplate the traits we share. “Dogs are considered loyal, selfless, trustworthy, life saving, fun and proud companions in a world where these values are gradually disappearing,” he writes. His flawless compositions are both humorous and soulful, capturing a shared essence and connection between two species that deserves to be nurtured and celebrated.
We Choose Dogs That Share Our Personality Traits
In a separate article, Coren wrote about another study that looked at the similarities between the personalities of owners and their dogs, as assessed by the owners and their family members. The personality traits they evaluated: neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness. “The dog owners rated their dogs as having similar personalities to themselves in all five of the personality traits measured,” Coren notes. “The strongest association was between the owner’s degree of neuroticism and that of their dog, followed by extraversion.” He adds that “in four out of the five personality characteristics, these family members saw the same traits in the dog as in the dog’s owner.” Coren concludes that owners consciously decide to get dogs or dog breeds that reflect their own personality.
Our Dogs Become More Like Us With Each Passing Day
A good portion of Magnani’s Underdogs subjects appear to be over 45, which got me wondering whether the similarities between dog and owner that start with the conscious choice of which dog to get actually grow stronger over time. Experts interviewed by Elizabeth Wasserman in a post for The Dog Daily say they do. “When a dog spends all its time with you, those human behaviors, schedules and tastes can rub off. Dogs do pick up on our moods, preferences, anxieties and fears,” says Lynn Hoover, founder of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and author of The Family in Dog Behavior Consulting. And the rubbing off goes both ways. Dogs arrive with their own temperaments and breed tendencies, their own fears and anxieties, and they influence owners with their worries or lack thereof.” A dog enhances our quality of life, providing loyal companionship, affection, protection and fun. The fact that a dog can also help boost positive personal qualities and diminish traits that don’t serve us well is just one more good reason to get one.