Why Do Dogs Look Like Their Owners?
    By Sarah Harrison | July 17th 2013 01:48 PM | 25 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    The idea that dogs tend to look like their owners is big news to no-one. Even before the days of Paris Hilton dressing her Chihuahua, ‘Tinkerbell’ in mini-me outfits, it has long been observed that dogs and their owners often share a striking resemblance. Undoubtedly, the tall, willowy blonde can be seen walking her Afghan hound in the local park, while the Staffordshire bull terrier will be accompanied by an equally tough-looking bloke.

    Amusing as the idea might be, is there any real evidence to support this, or is it just chance?

    Believe it or not, scientists in America have been funded to test this very idea. It turns out that pure-bred dogs really do appear to resemble their owners. Professor Nicholas Christenfeld led a study in which photographs were taken of dogs, and their owners. The photographs were then presented to strangers, who were then asked to match a person with their canine-companion, based only on physical resemblance. The ‘judges’ in the study were shown the owner’s photograph, plus two photographs of dogs. One photograph was of the dog belonging to the owner, and the other was of another dog. Judges were not told which dog was which, and were asked to match the correct dog to the owner.

    The study found that for pure-bred dogs, their owners could be correctly identified more often than we would predict by chance, suggesting that these dogs and their owners really do resemble each other, on some level. However, there was no such result for mongrel dogs. The study even found that there was no relation between how frequently a dog could be correctly paired with its owner and the length of time that the two had co-habited, suggesting that far from convergence, people may actually select their purebred dogs on the basis on features they possess which resemble their own. Of course, very few people will do this consciously, but it seems that this is what happens.

    When an owner adopts a mongrel, this might simply be impulse, and the dog might not have such clearly defined traits as the pure-breds. When selecting a pure-bred, the decision is perhaps more considered, and owners can get the features they want (whether they know they want them or not) much more easily. Hence, pure bred dogs tend to resemble their owners, but we can’t say the same for mongrels. It seems that when an owner selects his four-legged friend, he in fact does so on the basis of shared traits. On what level dogs and owners shared attributes was, however, unclear from the study. It seems dogs and owners couldn’t be paired correctly by simple character matching- hairy dogs, for example, did not necessarily pair with hairy owners. Perhaps there is something more subtle going on- the researchers even suggest that similarities between dogs and owners may even extend to personality traits!

    This finding isn’t all that surprising, if quirky, and a little cute. Humans are known to seek companionship from other humans whom possess attributes and features like themselves, even when selecting a spouse, as a famous study by Berscheid & Reiss suggested, in 1998. Perhaps, the same applies when man selects his ‘best friend’?

    So, Science supports the anecdotal evidence- it seems dogs do tend to look like their owners. Next time you fancy a voluminous bubble-perm at the salon, how about getting yourself a poodle to match? This is perhaps more likely than you think!

    Citation: Roy&Christenfeld; 'Do Dogs resemble their owners?'. Psychological science (2004).


    Nah, that would mean mine has adorable brown puppy dog eyes too.

    Oh wait...
    This study should be more objective and based on actual measurements. People may unconsciously be associating types of people with types of dogs. Though if accurate it doesn't say much about people who own all those ugly pugs, pit bulls, boxers, yuck.

    Dog owning has become such a national obsession that I am increasingly growing in dislike for the dirty, needy, dangerous creatures. Any studies on the psychology of dog ownership? And how everyone else is pressured into liking dogs also?

    You may be a contrarian outlier. The frank and ernest belief (*) is that the article here on The 5 Best Dogs For Attracting Women was one of the more important scholarly works in the history of the Internet - and I think this is an important addition to the canon.

    (*) Frank in Pittsburgh and Ernest in Chicago.
    I have found I prefer dogs in the countryside, but not in the city. Unfortunately there are tons of dogs in the city. Luckily they are on leashes, usually. There is another despicable creature that is far worse and is plaguing the cities, in which the owner forces a sphere of their painful reality on to everyone around them and blocks up the natural flow of sidewalks, subways, and generally act like Rhinos in Fine China shops--human neonates.
    Children do not run wild jumping on people with permanently extended claws, biting or even killing them. They do not hump strangers legs (though this actually did happen to me once as a babysitter lol) stick their noses in everyones crotches and sniff and lick them obsessively, eat their own vomit, and most importantly do not spend entire days howling and yelping (yes kids make noise but they also grow out of it and I have found it not too hard to avoid). I have been driven out of apartments because of the constant barking. Now I can't hike where I would like to because of the off leash dogs. And you can never, ever complain because you are blamed. Owners always act like their dog has been an angel up until that moment or deny the barking ever happened. This is the weird psychology I am talking about. Look at all the mauling cases where the owners are defensive about their dogs even after they tore someone to pieces. Honestly I am planning to come out of the closet on Facebook, sick of all the dog obsessives there. I guess I am a contrarian, I don't like being forced to pretend I love the goofy, smelly mutts.

    You were a kid once Samuel, no? At least they are interesting to observe. I know what you mean about noise, I swim right next to a day camp and the noise is awful but most little kids when separated from their annoying parents at least are interesting and usually funny and charming. I grew up with dogs, but I just don't see how people find them so fascinating.

    The upshot of this idiotic comment is that the idiot, Samuel, is less likely to reproduce and impose another set of his genes upon us.

    The upshot of this idiotic comment is that the idiot, Samuel, is less likely to reproduce and impose another set of his genes upon us.

    Actually, some kids are terrible, and its because of their terrible parents who created them to have a trophy child that their dual working parent lifestyle could show off at cocktail parties. They infest metropolitan cities and enrich the Big Pharma drug companies and overpriced day care centers because of their terrible parenting skills. The same works for owners of dogs in "therapy" in metropolitan cities. If you want a pet, move to the suburbs. Don't pretend that the lack of attention environment you offer is worthy of the word parent. Its more like "collector" of things to show off. Next time, rather than in vitro fertilization, just buy a clown car like the Tesla Roadster - you both fulfill your self prescribed guilt and have a trophy to show off for your humility and morally superficial effort at being responsible. Grow up.

    My cat looks just like me except for the tail thing

    Gerhard Adam
    So which way do the stripes run on your coat?
    Mundus vult decipi
    (yes kids make noise but they also grow out of it and I have found it not too hard to avoid)
    Not hard to avoid? It's the one noise we are genetically pre-determined to not be able to ignore! But perhaps there is variation and so some of us are more sensitive than others.

    You were a kid once Samuel, no? At least they are interesting to observe.
    Yes I was a kid, but after several years I finally managed to escape that unfortunate state.

    Yes kids are interesting to observe at times--ethology and anthropology are very interesting to me. In most cases I am ok hearing the second hand account by professional scientists in those fields. But when you are on a mission to do something else, or even just trying to relax or enjoy the vaguely intelligent and introspective atmosphere of an independent coffee shop, you don't want to have that environment shattered into obnoxious drudgery as some dolt trucks their crying yuppie larvae in and/or a gaggle of bipedal progeny bouncing off the walls and talking nonsense at full volume.

    Just as we don't want every environment in our day turning into a dog kennel, I don't want every environment of my day homogenized into a day care center or a fast food restaurant playpen.

    Gerhard Adam
    LOL ... it seems like the problem [in both of the posts above] is that you live in the city, or at least close enough to it to have to put up with the crowding conditions that allow for such a juxtaposition.

    I have dogs and I've had kids.  I try not to let either be annoying, but that means someone actually has to take the time to socialize them to others. 

    Getting back to the dogs [although it applies to children too] is that the problem isn't with the dog but rather with an ignorant owner.  Most people don't know how to handle dogs, and they certainly don't command respect from the dog, and consequently the dog takes charge while the daft owner looks on muttering how cute they are.

    Mundus vult decipi
    "Yes I was a kid, but after several years I finally managed to escape that unfortunate state."

    Exactly! Yet dog owners seem to fetishize this perpetual state of noisy destructive toddlerhood (and as I pointed out above a much more extreme version) with a risk of injury or death for spice I guess.

    Gerhard Adam
    You might be a bit harsh on dogs and dog owners, since I think the title of this article would be more aptly titled "Why Do Dogs Act Like Their Owners?".
    Mundus vult decipi
    I just don't like the attitude of dog owners. Dog barking is the biggest noise complaint, and dog bites are extremely common. What about all the maulings? It's horrific, but the response ranges from complete denial to blaming other dog owners or even worse attacking the complainer. You know "dogs bark, that's what they do" "my dogs are friendly" (so it's okay that I just let them run up and jump on you, and of course "get over yourself". I have no choice but to have physical interactions with dogs against my wishes.

    Sure there are normal dogs and owners, who I have no problem with, but I've been bitten, why should I have to put up with being approached aggressively on trails? Even friends' dogs who won't stop sniffing me, I hate it. yes, it's annoying when people push the boundaries with kids (I used to hate it when they were in the outdoor hot tub at my old gym) but at least I am not afraid of them, and as for the barking noise when you are in your own home, it's just outrageous. Have you ever dealt with this? I think it has escalated greatly and it's time for some pushback.

    If you read the comments to this article you can see how hostile the owners are to anyone who doesn't adore their pooches. I agree with Samuel about the city, it's cruel for the dogs and green spaces are too precious to be taken over by useless pets.

    My assumption has always been that much of the resemblance between dogs and owners derives from the fact that many people select dogs based on what they themselves would like to look like. The obese guy with the Chihuahua as much as the Churchill-type with the bulldog: in the former case it's what he'd like to look like, and in the latter case he's comfortable with his appearance.

    Gerhard Adam
    Yet, the fatal flaw in this logic is the presumption that someone only owns one dog.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Well, that's the difference between explanation and interpretation, isn't it? I can interpret the motives of "many people" without having to explain the motives of all people. It also allows me to speculate that people who own more than one dog are selecting each dog for traits they wish they possessed, but cannot find in a single dog!

    Gerhard Adam
    ...and also demonstrating that the human mind is great at rationalizing almost anything :)
    Mundus vult decipi
    Well, I think of my humor here as the opposite of rationalizing, though many rationalizations are pretty funny.... ;)

    I managed to read the headline as "What do dogs look like to the owners?" And my thought was that a more interesting question would be, "What do owners look like to their dogs?" I generously offer these research ideas to the mass mind of the net...

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Interesting article Sarah, I have 3 dogs that are all mongrels and I only 'own' them because they had been abused and needed a good home and I didn't really care what they looked like, when I adopted them.  Even so, I have to admit that I did fall in love with them all on first sight, so maybe I'm wrong about their appearances mattering much to me.

    I find the whole idea of ordering a pedigree dog that looks like me and probably paying a lot of money for that privilege, makes me feel quite disconcerted but so does the idea of pampering and preening myself and paying a fortune for hairdressing, so I guess I'm an unusual woman. 

    Is there even an ugly, fat, fine brown haired, brown eyed, round faced, pug nosed, small eared, above average intelligence (!) pedigree that could fit the criteria of looking and being a bit like me?  I doubt it. I think a scientific study investigating the traits of people who own mongrels would probably be a much more interesting one. I found a photo of a dog that maybe looks a bit like you, would you agree or are you above such absurd comparisons?

    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    I'm glad you found this interesting!

    To be honest, I'm often sceptical of studies such as these- they are often done with small sample sizes and whether something 'looks like' something else might be considered quite a subjective thing anyway! 
    However, as a dog-lover, I thought this was rather cute. I too have a rescued mongrel- and wouldn't change him for the world!

    Though, I am quite jealous of the long, flowing locks of the breed above! 
    Gerhard Adam
    Well, here's one of my dogs, but I guess without the hat it's hard to see if there's any similarity.

    Mundus vult decipi