Dogs look like their owners – it’s a scientific fact #Beekhaybee

By David Robson
12 November 2015
Go to any park, and you will see the strange
phenomenon of the canine mini-me. Maybe it’s a
bearded hipster, accompanied by a little bundle of fur
that looks like it went to the same barber, or a
pugnacious thug carrying a bulldog. Or perhaps it’s an
athletic jogger and her Afghan hound, their glossy
locks blowing effortlessly in the wind.
Why do people choose the dog that looks most like
themselves? Far from being skin-deep, the answer may
give you a new appreciation of the intense bonds we
humans have forged with our four-legged friends.
Indeed, there are some strange and unexpected
parallels with the way we choose our other, two-legged
life partners.
Michael Roy at the University of California, San Diego
was one of the first psychologists to put the idea to
the test. Going to three nearby dog parks, he
photographed the pooches and the owners separately,
and then asked a group of participants to try to match
them up. Despite no additional cues, he found that
they were able to work out who lived with whom with
reasonable accuracy. The result has since been
repeated many times. (Importantly, the resemblance
may be slight but noticeable; not all bulldog owners
will look like their faces have been squeezed through a
wringer.)
Women with long hair are more likely to prefer
dogs with long, floppy ears
Admittedly, the result only holds for pure-bred dogs
(not mongrels) and it’s sometimes based on superficial
appearances: women with long hair are more likely to
prefer dogs with long, floppy ears, and heavier people
tend to have fatter dogs. Yet it also shows itself in
more subtle features, such as subtle differences in the
shapes of the eyes that are shared between pooch and
person. Indeed, when the eyes of the photos were
covered, it became much harder for participants to
make the connection.
Maybe this is all due to the allure of familiarity: a dog
may seem more comforting if it resembles the other
members of our family, who we know and love. Yet
some psychologists believe it might be a spill over
from the way we evolved to find mates: dating
someone that looks like us may ensure that their genes
are generally compatible with our own. Thanks to this
imprinting, we may therefore prefer anything that looks
a bit like us. (Along these lines, people also tend to
choose cars on the same basis – someone with a
slightly squarer jaw might prefer a car with more
brutish fender, for instance. And as a result, their cars
also tend to resemble their dogs .)
Importantly, our narcissism isn’t just skin deep: we
don’t just go for people who look like us, we also tend
to orbit people who share our personalities too.
(Shared traits can even predict a couple’s satisfaction
in their marriage.) A couple of years ago, Borbala
Turcsan at Eotvos University in Budapest decided to
test whether the same was true of our canine
soulmates. “The relationship with a dog is a very
special one – they are not simply a pet but a family
member, a friend, or a companion – so we thought it
might develop in parallel with those other
relationships,” she says.
There is now even a canine version of the “Big
Five” questionnaire typically used to measure
the most important dimensions of personality
The very idea of a dog personality may seem dubious
to some, but previous experiments had shown that
human traits such as extroversion can correspond to
objective measures of the dog’s behaviour – such as
whether they were aggressive with strangers, or
whether they are shy and spend more time hiding
behind their owner’s legs. There is now even a canine
version of the “Big Five” questionnaire typically used to
measure the most important dimensions of
personality: neuroticism, extraversion,
conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness. The
doggy version is based on simple behavioural
measures, such as whether it “tends to be lazy” or
“tends to be cold and aloof”.
We are more similar to dogs than we are to our
friends and partners
Sure enough, Turcsan found that the dogs and their
owners both tended to show similar personality
profiles. “It was actually higher than the similarity
found in married couples and friends,” she says.
Importantly, the correlation couldn’t be explained by
the amount of time the dogs and their owners had
spent living together, so it didn’t seem that the dog
had simply learnt to ingratiate itself by copying the
owner. Instead, the personality seemed to be part of
the dog’s appeal in the first place. Perhaps it’s wise
that we choose these companions to be so
compatible: the average dog does, after all, outlive the
average marriage .
It is awe-inspiring to think of how this relationship
first emerged. Humans started domesticating dogs as
much as 30,000 years ago to help us with hunting, but
slowly we have bred these creatures in our own image,
allowing us to forge an intense emotional bond that
crosses the natural boundaries between our species.
Today, they look like us, act like us, and – unlike other
humans – they always reciprocate our feelings. In
many ways they are the better reflections of our own
true natures. It’s little wonder we now consider them
man’s best friend.
David Robson is BBC Future’s feature writer. He is
@d_a_robson on Twitter. Gerrard Gethings is a
London-based photographer who has specialised in
portraying the distinctive personalities of animals.

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