This article in the New York Times tackles an issue of burning social import: do dogs and their owners look alike?
The research, apparently, is as mixed as the heritage of the beloved Milo. Milo is an exceedingly good-looking little fellow, and my immediate reaction upon seeing the headline “Some Dogs Look Like Their Owners” was, “I wish!” My brains and Milo’s looks and general adorability would be a potent combination indeed. And there would have been no question of me winning that “Mad Men” contest, either: Milo is the epitome of sleek, understated early-60s design. Peep this handsome little man:
Does your dog (or cat) look like you?
More interestingly, do you see your dog or cat as being similar to you in personality or life story?
Milo’s black-on-white spots aren’t the only thing he has in common with a Rorschach test. As I wrote on his first Gotcha Day, “I know you grew up in a suburban backyard, without many friends, and that once you were old enough you got bored and lit out for something more. I could identify …” I also identify with Milo’s hatred of the heat, his neuroticism, his distrust of strangers, his love of Greek yogurt and olive oil, and his fastidious grooming.* Mr. Improbable, if asked to describe some of his favorite things about Milo, would probably note his boundless energy, his curiosity, his athleticism, his friendliness, and his love of being laughed at.
I don’t think this is accidental.
Research** suggests that people do see their pets as being similar to themselves in personality, and that the more similar you think you and your pet are, the more you like your pet, and the more you think your pet is better than other pets. (This would explain the wholly objective observation that Milo is, in fact, the Best Dog in the World.)
What about you? Do you think your pet resembles you, either physically or psychologically? How do you feel about that? Do you identify with your pet’s positive or negative qualities, or both? (I listed all positive ones for Mr. Improbable, but I’m sure he sees some of his own flaws in the little guy as well.)
*I generally take a lot of care with my appearance, but before any major event my beauty preparations really ramp up. You can imagine what having my first book come out, and “Today Show” appearances and all that, did to me. I–being, as noted, somewhat neurotic–tortured myself over this for a while. Was I betraying my principles? Or was I making a rational decision to invest in my appearance as a career asset? Were the pedicures and retinol and facials an expression of self-love or self-hatred? Then it occurred to me: when I get nervous, I groom myself. I am not the only animal that does this. There didn’t seem to be any need to pathologize or politicize it nearly as much as I was.
**El-Alayli, A., Lystad, A.L., Webb, S.R., Hollingsworth, S.L. & Ciolli, J.L. (2006). Reigning Cats and Dogs: A Pet-Enhancement Bias and Its Link to Pet Attachment, Pet–Self Similarity. Basic and Applied Social Psychology 28 (2) 131-143.