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David Baxter PhD

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What Our Dogs Say About Us
People, Pooches Do Look Alike
May 11, 2004
By Daniel DeNoon
WebMD Medical News

May 11, 2004 -- People do look like their dogs, psychologists report.

Take a walk in the park and you'll see it yourself: There seems to be a certain resemblance between the person and the dog at opposite ends of a leash.

Do dogs and their people really look alike? Yes, say psychologists Michael M. Roy and Nicholas J.S. Christenfeld, PhD, of the University of California, San Diego. They find that independent observers can pair pictures of people and their pooches.

Their study also suggests why the appearance of people and their pets so often seem similar.

"When people pick a pet, they seek one that -- at some level -- resembles them," Roy and Christenfeld write in the May issue of Psychological Science.

Pets and Their People at the Park
The researchers went to three different dog parks. They took photos of 45 people and their pets. So that there wouldn't be obvious clues, they photographed each one separately, against different backgrounds.

Both the people and the dogs were allowed to make any kind of facial expression they wanted -- although the psychologists note that the dogs were "exhibiting rather more lolling tongues than the owners."

A panel of student judges then looked at sets of three pictures -- one person, that person's pet, and another dog chosen at random. The judges tried to match the person to the pet. They also tried to tease out exactly what made them look alike.

When it came to purebred dogs, the judges were right most of the time: 16 matches against nine misses. But when it came to mutts, it was another story: The judges got only seven of 20 matches.

This suggests that people try to pick dogs that look like them in some way -- because it's almost impossible to know what a mongrel puppy will look like when it's grown.

"When they get a purebred, they get what they want," Roy and Christenfeld note.

Pets Not Like Spouses
It's possible, of course, that the dogs and their owners grew to resemble each other. After all, there's evidence that the longer people are married, the more they look alike.

But there was no link between dog/owner resemblance and length of ownership.

Oddly enough, it was impossible for the judges to agree on exactly how people and their dogs looked alike. There was no link between being able to match a dog with its owner and obvious traits, such as being hairy or big.

"We also cannot know from these data if people can tell whether a particular person is an owner of a dog as opposed to, say, a weasel," Roy and Christenfeld conclude. "However, it does appear that, as in the case of selecting a spouse, people want a creature like themselves."

Roy, M.M. and Christenfeld, N.J.S. Psychological Science, May 2004; vol 15: pp 361-363.
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