From the End of the Leash: Why People Look Like Their Pups

From the End of the Leash: Why People Look Like Their Pups

It is I, Tiberius. You have once again been graced with my presence in the blogosphere—please, hold your applause. This week, I read something quite disturbing during one of my routine attempts to fetch the news. What is this alarming news, you ask? Dogs and their people look similar.

I was simply aghast to hear this, because I happen to find myself much more fashionable and handsome than my humans. To hear that we might actually look similar is almost more than I can bear! Still, science rarely lies. You might remember the classic scene from 101 Dalmatians that features a veritable parade of people and their pets, each pair displaying a certain… resemblance.  

Obese people with overweight dogs, jowly men with bulldogs, the diminutive Paris Hilton with the tiny Tinkerbell—people have shared anecdotal evidence of person/pooch similarities for decades but scientists were left scratching their heads, searching for proof that this phenomenon is more than mere coincidence.

And they did! People are able to match randomly sorted groups of dogs and their owners at rates that are higher than pure chance. A psychologist from Japan found that people could identify fake pairs of people and their dogs when presented with couples. He gave 500 Japanese college students 20 sets of dog-human pairs. He eliminated as many extra variables as possible—all people and dogs had same pose, same size and plain background. The pairs were then randomly assigned to one of the test sheets: one had 20 real pairs and the other had 20 randomly assigned pairs. The participants could sniff out the real pairs a whopping 80 percent of the time!

And the findings get even more interesting, actually. Some of the photos were covered with a black bar in one of four places: over the human’s eyes, over the dog’s eyes, dog’s mouth or human’s mouth. 74 percent could find the real pairs when only given the dog’s eyes and the human’s eyes, and 73 percent when the owner’s mouth was covered. People struggled when any eyes were covered and couldn’t succeed past guessing. This means that the similarity between people and their dogs are all in the eyes. Since all the people were Asian, they had similar dark eyes: the undergrads weren’t relying on shallow things like hair, eye color, height, weight or hairstyle. People say that eyes are the window to the soul—but maybe they’re also the mirror, too!

Because I am one of a truly superior, curious mind, I’m left with a big question: why? Why do people look like their dogs? And is it just dogs, or do people tend to look like their parakeets and kittens as well? One reason could be that people are drawn to animals that look like them— you humans can be so self-absorbed! (Still, I love you anyway.) Or perhaps the cause is that dogs mimic their owners after living together for a while. A study from 2011 found that dogs told to open a door preferred whichever method they had just seen their owner execute, even if given a treat for using the other way.

Whatever the reason, I highly recommend that you go to your nearest shelter this weekend and look lovingly into the eyes of your new best friend… right before taking her home! And in the meantime, I’ll just be hanging out, appreciating the fact that personality stereotypes are shown to have no correlation between owners and their dogs… I have enough ego pride for everyone, thank you.

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