Is Your Dog Becoming You?

By Elizabeth Wasserman

Is Your Dog Becoming <em>You</em>?

What type of dog would a woman with curly hair most likely own: a Rottweiler or a poodle?

Chances are you chose the poodle. That people often resemble their dogs has been fodder over the ages for cartoonists, contests, and even the new board game called “Do You Look Like Your Dog?” by Briarpatch. A few years ago, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, proved a scientific basis for this belief, finding that judges correctly matched photos of purebred dogs with owners two out of three times.

Study author Nicholas Christenfeld, a psychology professor, argues that dog owners seek breeds that resemble them. “Evolutionarily we’ve adapted to take care of little, nonverbal creatures that resemble us -- in most cases, our children,” he says. “In many ways, pets capitalize on that desire. Many people have bonded with pets the way others have bonded with children.”

Researchers are now building upon the look-alike theory to examine if it carries over to personalities and behaviors. British psychology professor Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire has had nearly 2,500 pet owners fill out questionnaires about their personalities and those of their pets. He says on his website that pets and their owners get more and more alike over time -- just like married couples who tend to dress and look more similar as the years go by.

Nature versus Nurture
The question is: Do people select pups that act similar to them or do dogs and owners grow more similar over time? Experts say that it’s likely a bit of both.

People choose dog breeds that are compatible to them on various levels, from appearance to activeness, says Lynn Hoover, MSW, CDBC, founder of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and author of The Family in Dog Behavior Consulting (2006 Dogwise). “If the owner loves hiking, he will likely choose a dog that can keep up and enjoy long walks. On another level, if the human is by nature distant, independent, tough, dignified, they may admire and draw from a breed known for fierce independence, or (one that is) regal and dignified.”

When a dog spends all its time with you, those human behaviors, schedules, and tastes can rub off. “Dogs do pick up on our moods, preferences, anxieties and fears,” Hoover says. “And, the rubbing off goes both ways. Dogs arrive with their own temperaments and breed tendencies, their own fears and anxieties, and they influence owners with their worries or lack thereof.”

There are potential benefits and detriments to this. A bold and sociable dog could be good for an owner that has apprehensions about meeting new people, Hoover says. When strangers approach, the dog can signal the owner that greeting strangers can be fun by wagging its tail. However, a perfectly calm dog in the home of an anxious owner can become a basket case -- not knowing how to act, becoming alarmed at visitors, and ignoring commands because of a lack of follow through.

Pit Your Personality against Your Pup’s
To figure out whether you and your pet are two peas in a pod, answer the following questions about whether these traits apply to you, your dog, or both of you. Add up your score to see your diagnosis below.

  1. Is happy eating the same breakfast every day:
    1. me (1)
    2. my dog (2)
    3. both of us (3)
  2. Gets stressed when the mailman arrives with lots of bills:
    1. me (1)
    2. my dog (2)
    3. both of us (3)
  3. Understands when family members have no time to play:
    1. me (1)
    2. my dog (2)
    3. both of us (3)
  4. Doesn’t see Prozac as a panacea for life’s problems:
    1. me (1)
    2. my dog (2)
    3. both of us (3)
  5. Loves nothing better than to take a long walk on a sunny afternoon
    1. me (1)
    2. my dog (2)
    3. both of us (3)

What Your Answers Say
5-11 points: Dog/Owner Divide
How did you two wind up together? You and your pet are very different if you can honestly say that the traits and behaviors above are reflective more of you, rather than your dog, or vice versa. It may be that your pet personifies the characteristics of another person in your household -- a spouse, a parent, or even a child. Substitute “my spouse” (or mother or son) in place of “me” to see if your pup has paired off with someone else.

12-15 points: Separated at Birth You and your dog are a virtual set of cross-species twins. You have similar traits if you saw a lot of yourself and your pet in the questions above. It may be that you selected a certain dog breed that best matched your personality -- or your looks. Or it could be that Rover has just adapted to your schedule, your likes and dislikes and your temperament as the pup got to know and love you.

Don’t worry if you and your dog are different but still get along. “Dogs are simple,” Hoover says. “They are what they are and they react as they will and that’s the way they stay. Whatever they take on from owners, it happens fast, within their first few interactions with humans, and it quickly becomes habitual.”

Photo: Corbis Images

Elizabeth Wasserman, a Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer, has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.


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Posted on July 16, 2008

Cody says: I have a red Siberian Husky and is about 3 years old.She loves to dig and she gets out I dont know why either.I need somones help before she gets out and gets ran over.We live in the country so i try to walk her.Someone please help me!!!!

Posted on June 3, 2008

ELIZABETH WHITE says: I HAVE A VERY FRIENDLY POMERANIANwho is niw 8 years old --he loves walks and meeting people -- and loves meeting other dogs --is friendly -but wants to kiss everyone --hard on clothes and legs ---he hardly barks when walking but when in house--he hears noise--sounds like car--sounds like someone on porch --heI HAVE A VERY FRIENDLY POMERANIAN who is niw 8 years old --he loves walks and meeting people -- and loves meeting other dogs --is friendly -but wants to kiss everyone --hard on clothes and legs ---he hardly barks when walking but when in house--he hears noise--sounds like car--sounds like someone on porch --he barks and barks ----yet if someone comes in --he doesn,t. why? barks and barks ----yet if someone comes in --he doesn,t. why?

Posted on May 27, 2008

Mandy says: Hi, I have a 3 year old yorkie, that is ridiculously smart. When we are driving in the car, and getting close to our destination she gets over excited and wines/yelps. When I put on the e-brake and unbuckle my seatbelt she gets really loud with her excitement. I have tried a VERY firm no, and also a cal m "it's going to be okay, settle down." Niether works. Any suggestions? She knows she shouldn't do it, but in typical yorkie fashion, she doesn't care....

Posted on March 29, 2008

Diane says: I have a border collie who I raised from a puppy. She chewed and dug up things until she was about 1 1/2 years old. As a trainer suggested, I gave her treat filled toys and chew toys. I also bought her a sand pit which I filled with playground sand and hid several toys for her to find. This satisfied her at times. But, time was the best habit breaker of all. She stopped chewing and digging with age. I wouldn't trade her for anything. Be patient. Your dogs are worth it.

Posted on March 21, 2008

Carleen says: As to your Jack Russel terrier....give him ropes to chew on or raw hide if there is not a weight problem as the raw hide will put on the weight over time. I have a Rat Terrier pup that I got after my 4 yr old Rat was overweight and gave her the ropes. She chews on the knots. You can get them ay the dollar store often. We also play tug-a-war with them. Good luck. Carleen

Posted on March 8, 2008

Carole Cole says: I assume that the BC is not still chewing, but don't know if you had it when it was a puppy. JRTs and BCs are of comparable intelligence and what works for one should work for the other. My Border Collie chewed until she was about 2.5 and none of the advice I received worked as well as just being pro-active. It is no different from baby-proofing your home when your child begins to walk. I kept everything out of my dog's reach that she could possibly chew on and tried to supply her with plenty of healthy, safe chewables. When she did get hold of something I didn't want chewed up, I didn't make a big deal about it (sad as I may have been) unless I caught her in the act and then it was just a firm "NO" quickly followed with an appropriate chew toy. I did make a big deal about her chew toys and knucklebones and taught her to treat them like her other toys (learning the name, fetching it by name). It's a relatively short stage of development and a JRT is so smart that you should be able to easily teach her that there are things that she may chew on - and only those things.

Posted on March 6, 2008

George Silva says: I have a Jack Russel that chews everything. she is 1 yr old and has not been fixed yet.I also have a 7 yr old Border collie. Please somebody help me!!! I am sorry this doesnt relate to any article posted...I am desparate!

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