Why People Look Like Their Pets
Which of the two dogs pictured above looks the most like me?
On the walls of the waiting room in my vet office there are pictures of all of the veterinarians with their pets. The pictures are fascinating to me because in nine out of ten cases the pet-vet combos share an uncanny resemblance.
Try going to a dog park and guessing which owner belongs with which dog. With only a visual cue it is not hard to decide on accurate pairings.
It is not just a myth. People do look like their pets.
Before we continue, take a second to answer the poll to the right of the screen. I will come back to the poll at the end of the article.
Interpersonal attraction is a branch of psychology that explores the reasons that people are attracted to each other. One of the main factors that psychologists have identified as the cause of attraction between two people is the amount of similarities between them. This includes similarity in appearance, personality, and lifestyle.
Research on human-pet relationships is not nearly as developed as research on human-human relationships, but it stands to reason that people interact with animals similarly to the way they interact with people. Because of this it seems fair to presume that interpersonal attraction can apply to people's relationships with their pets.
Ask almost anyone what their favorite breed of dog is and they will probably have an immediate reply.
Interpersonal attraction indicates that people are attracted to animals that share similar physical features - a round face, a prominent forehead, beady eyes. Being around something that is similar to them in looks is a confirmation of their own self worth. People are also more comfortable with things that they are familiar with and having a pet that seems familiar is a way of making them feel safe. Without ever meeting an animal face to face people have already formed strong preferences based on their own appearance.
Interpersonal attraction also accounts for similarities in personality. Once a person is face to face with an animal that they have deemed physically attractive, similarity in personality will also become a deciding factor in picking an animal.
This explains why pets expressions often seem to be well matched with their owners' expressions. A happy go-lucky guy is more likely to chose a smiling golden retriever, while a loner guy is more likely to chose a grumpy cat that glares at you from under the bed.
Before any relationship has developed human and pet already look and behave similarly.
Over time an animal will likely become more like it's owner in terms of body type. Lifestyle plays a major factor in this increasing similarity. A man who lives a highly athletic lifestyle will likely share that lifestyle with his dog. The result will be an owner-pet combo that is well toned and healthy. Inversely, a woman that does little activity and places a high value on food is less likely to keep her pet well exercised, and is more likely to feed her pet extra food as a way of showing affection.
Time may also cause similar behaviors between owner and pet to develop. This strengthens the outside perspective that people look like their pets. Humans are great at picking up learned behaviors, often subconsciously from their surroundings. I caught myself stretching the other day in a way that is very distinct to my dog, Lily.
Pets will likely pick up human behaviors as well. For dogs this is instinctual because in order to function as as they do in the wild, they have to be able to learn behaviors from other dogs in the pack. Lily learned quickly how to rub against people's legs from my foster cat, Delilah. It is only a matter of time before she picks up some of my behaviors.
Disney shows this idea best in the classic opening sequence of 101 Dalmatians. Notice how the dogs are not just physically similar to their owners - they also walk with a similar posture and pace.
Studies in interpersonal attraction suggest that relationships that share similarities are stronger and last longer. Next time you laugh at the old lady with the perm and the matching poodle, stop and consider that her relationship with her dog is probably one to be admired.
P.S. Back to the poll: I picked out Dog A (Lily) myself, but my dad picked Dog B (Taffy) for me. Does that show based on our appearance? Research shows that when asked to pair random pictures of people with pictures of their pets, 2 out of 3 times someone could match the pet with the correct owner.
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