Do you look like your dog?

August 13th, 2009

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:

milochiar

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.


4 Responses to “Do you look like your dog?”

  1. veronica on August 13, 2009 9:31 am

    We have a family dog, who is not like me. Then there are 3 cats, one of whom is mine.

    I adopted Archer a couple months ago after I moved back home. Sort of a graduation present to myself. I had no idea what Archer’s personality would be like, I adopted him because he was cute and cuddly and purred.

    Little did I know I adopted a cat with the same personality as me.

    The cats get baby food for breakfast every morning. If Archer doesn’t get his breakfast, he whines and whines like nothing else and jumps on me until I feed him. And he’s very particular about what types of baby food he’ll eat. Only chicken, turkey, and ham. No veal, beef, or lamb for him.
    I am particular about my breakfast and need to eat it every morning unless you want to meet one of the witchiest people in the world.

    Archer has some slight OCD tendencies, especially when it comes to the litter box. It needs to be cleaned daily or he won’t go. Also all entries to the litter box must be covered. My mom’s cat never really learned how to properly use a litter box, so he doesn’t bury his materials. Archer goes in and covers it for him.
    I am also slightly OCD when it comes to the bathroom. I like the lid to be closed at all times. And I will go in after someone and close the lid.

    Archer also doesn’t like things to be moved around. Mom moved his cat tree 2 feet, and he freaked out. I don’t think I’m that OCD, but who knows. I don’t like it when things look out of order.

  2. bluemoose on August 13, 2009 11:10 am

    My eldest cat (of 2) is a klutz. Like me. He has a poor sense of balance and often does not know how close he is to the edge (of the coffee table, chair, couch, bed) and falls off. That much, we share. I am also jealous if his ability to sleep for vast tracts of time. I would, but I have this job I must do in order to buy cat food — the cats, if not fed, do not allow me to sleep.

    But no, really, I don’t think we’re that much alike.

  3. Lisa on August 13, 2009 12:40 pm

    If my tortie Coco and I looked alike, that would be awesome, because she has the coolest fur!

  4. Robin on August 13, 2009 12:55 pm

    I realized that in my description of Milo I say that he is both friendly and mistrustful of strangers, which obviously sounds like a contradiction. What I meant is that he is extremely friendly with people (except about 5% of the male population whom he hates for no reason I can tell) but tends to distrust other dogs. We’ve got a little yin/yang thing going with that, because I immediately adore most dogs, but tend to be slow to warm up to new people.

    Similarly, Milo is crazy about children, just as I love puppies–and he’s awkward and uncertain around puppies, just as I am with children!

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