Is Your Dog Becoming You?


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

Amazing Stories of Lost and Found Dogs

In February, Alfredo Fulleda's mother let his dog, Pepito, outside in the yard along with the family's three other miniature dachshunds. The other three came back inside; Pepito did not. An 18-month-old dog, Pepito was lost for two days -- until a friend discovered an Internet posting about a dachshund found in their city.

"He was scared when I finally got to him," says Fulleda. "He had lost some weight, and the bottoms of his paws were chapped. He had walked over a mile and had crossed major intersections."

Pepito's saga of how a lost dog was found is repeated around the country each year. Consider, for example, JoJo of San Francisco.  

JoJo’s Lost and Found Story
JoJo's return to the Gaffney family in San Francisco underscores the need to make sure a dog has identification in case it gets lost -- or in JoJo's case, stolen. His family tied up the 5-year-old mixed breed dog in front of a supermarket, but when they came back, someone had taken JoJo, with the abduction caught on the store's security cameras.

Owner Nick Gaffney says the family plastered the neighborhood with "lost dog" posters, contacted dog walkers, hired a dog tracker and even a pet psychic, and had their story picked up by the local news. More than $800 and a week later, JoJo's implanted microchip saved the day. The dog was turned in to a nearby veterinarian who scanned the chip.

"If he wasn’t chipped, we never would have gotten him home," says Gaffney.

In addition to microchipping, other forms of pet identification are collars, tags and tattoos. "We think external collars and tags save more lives and prompt more returns than anything else," says John Snyder, vice president of the companion animal section of the Humane Society of the United States.

Preventive Lost Dog Measures
The best insurance policy against losing your dog is to make sure the dog doesn't get loose. Here are steps the HSUS recommends:

  • Keep dogs indoors, especially when you're not home
  • Teach your dog to walk on a leash
  • Fence your yard and padlock gates
  • Don't let your pet roam free or be visible from the street
  • Never leave pets in a car or outside a store to wait for you
  • Train your dogs to come when called

Network and Use the Internet
As the stories of Pepito and JoJo demonstrate, alerting a network of people in the community can help in the immediate aftermath of a disappearance. Here’s what you can do if your dog goes missing:

  • Put up fliers in your neighborhood with a recent photo of your dog
  • Use neighborhood email distribution lists to alert neighbors
  • Contact local animal shelters and dog rescue organizations
  • Tap into networks of dog walkers to spread the word
  • Use Craigslist.org and FidoFinder.com to post information about lost or found dogs

"The sooner you can get the information out to animal welfare, the humane society and neighbors, the better your changes are at finding your dog," says Snyder.

The Internet helped lead Fulleda to Pepito. Fulleda had posted pictures of Pepito on his Facebook page along with a caption: "We need you to come home." High school friend Erin Mallon saw the posting and wanted to help. "It popped into my head to do an Internet search," she says. "I typed into a search engine 'found dachshund' and the name of their city." A link to the FidoFinder.com came up, where someone had already posted a note about a black dachshund seen in the area.

Fulleda believes that Pepito, who was unneutered, had wandered off in search of a female dog. He's now going to neuter Pepito and train him to stay in the yard.

Putting Your Pup Through Kinderpuppy

The dozen or so young dogs in Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz' class are about to spend the next hour lavished with praise, treats and attention. For the puppies, all irresistibly cute to owners flush with new love, these regular hour-long classes over the next six weeks will seem like fun and games. Owners will play off-leash with their puppy pals, while dogs learn basic cues from their owners and interact with strangers. But this puppy class, which Sylvia-Stasiewicz laughingly calls "puppy preschool,"' might be critical for the future happiness of both dogs and owners.

Training your dog at an early age leads to happier relationships. In many cases, it decreases the chances that your dog may have to be removed from your home because of behavioral issues. "It's kind of preparing your dog for life," says Sylvia-Stasiewicz, owner of northern Virginia-based Merit Puppy Training. "We want to prevent possible problems, such as food or resource guarding, jumping, puppy mouthing or nipping. We want to take the puppies as a clean slate at a young age."

Early Training Benefits
Instruction and interaction during the first six to eight months of doggie development ensures that a puppy absorbs information from its social and physical environment like a sponge, says Jennie Jamtgaard, an animal behavior instructor at the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

"Ideally, a puppy class is going to get them started on the road to socialization," says Jamtgaard. A good puppy training class, like classes for young children, is tailored to suit its participants with positive reinforcement, short segments and social time.

"Training by positive reinforcement means you're using something the dog wants to get a win-win situation," says dog trainer Angelica Steinker, owner of Courteous Canine in Lutz, Fla. "Things should be taught in a way that maximizes fun and minimizes stress.'' Puppy classes shouldn't involve shouting, leash corrections and the like, say the trainers.

Because your puppy undoubtedly has a short attention span, it's important to keep activities and learning exercises brief in puppy class. While the temptation might be to practice a lesson over and over, it doesn't work well for young dogs, says Jamtgaard.

While practicing a lesson over and over may not benefit younger pups, playing with its peers will. The typical puppy class will provide time for your puppy to interact with the other dogs off-leash. Your puppy should also get the chance to interact with other people. Many puppy classes allow children to attend when accompanied by adults. That's an opportunity for your puppy to learn to interact with children appropriately.

For more information about puppy education and links to classes held worldwide, visit the puppyclass website. Be sure to thoroughly evaluate a school before you enroll your dog. Also, the American Kennel Club can connect owners to training clubs throughout the U.S. that provide education for canines of all ages. A full list of training clubs can be found at the akc website.

For Do-It-Yourselfers. . .
A puppy class provides a controlled opportunity for socialization that you really can't replicate elsewhere, but there are also things you can try with your dog at home: 

  • Offer real-life rewards Teach your puppy to work for anything and everything he's going to get, Sylvia-Stasiewicz says. And just how do you teach your impossibly wiggly ball of energy how to sit? Simple. Raise a piece of food, out of sight in your closed hand, above its nose. Then watch the laws of dog physics at work. The head goes up and the bottom goes down.
  • Hand feed Take the time to hand feed your puppy rather than placing a bowl in front of its nose, and you establish control that will help with future training.
  • Make trades Teach your puppy to fetch by trading nutritious treats for the items fetched. It makes it less likely your puppy will disappear under the bed with one of your favorite slippers.
  • Play smart Make education fun for your puppy. Hide and seek teaches your puppy a lot (while using up a great deal of its energy), particularly if you train them to seek you out.

Remember that learning opportunities for your dog begin immediately from the beginning. "They're always in class,'' says Sylvia-Stasiewicz. "You've got to start the day the dog comes home. "Your puppy is only going to be a puppy a short while. The socializing window is going to close before you know it."

Photo: Corbis Images

Make Your Dog a Part of Your Wedding

One of the most important decisions to make when planning a wedding is who to invite. Couples often spend days mulling over lists of friends, colleagues and family members. As you wrote, our pets are definitely part of our families, so you are good to consider your dog.

These days, almost anything goes at weddings. If you are planning the festivities yourself, your nuptials could consist of anything from a barefoot-on-the-beach ceremony to a more formal church service. For the latter, your dog would have to be very well-socialized so that it would not become anxious in a crowd or react (such as by bolting) to sudden noises, like hand-clapping or loud music. You don’t want to be saying “I do” while your dog is running for its life! Also, be sure to ask in advance about permissions, since some venues do not allow dogs. A lot of pet clothing manufacturers now make cute bridal gowns and tuxes for dogs.

You can also arrange for a pet wedding package. Purr’n Pooch of New Jersey, for example, can assist you with training your dog to be on its best behavior when walking down the aisle. The luxury pet boarders even send your dog on its own honeymoon while you and your better half go on yours. The dog honeymoon package includes daily day care, time to swim in the pool and massage therapy. Your dog will stay in a suite with DIRECTV, leather and foam memory couches made for dogs, classical music and more. Each dog guest additionally receives a Berber sleeping blanket along with spring water. With all of that, your dog will probably hope that you renew your wedding vows on a regular basis!

The idea for the dog wedding deal came when owner Dick Palazzo and his family were planning the marriage of one of their daughters in 2002. She wanted to include the family dog on her special day, and from this lightning-bolt moment came the start of the Purr’n Pooch special wedding package.

Dog-friendly Games for the Whole Family

A yard, your family and friends, plus at least one dog equal a recipe for ultimate summer fun. Alison Smith, author of the book 101 Fun Things to Do With Your Dog, has a whole section on games that you and your family can play with your dog. Here are two enjoyable ones for a summer afternoon:

Doggy Baseball
For this game, you need at least three human players, a Wiffle-type ball and your dog. You also need to set up bases, which can be easily done with any kind of colorful objects, such as upside-down buckets. One person is a batter, while another pitches. Everyone else -- including your dog -- is a fielder. “The aim of the game is for the batter to hit the ball as far as he can and try to get ’round all of the bases without being out,” explains Smith.

Your additional job is to encourage your dog to go after the ball and bring it back to you. Most dogs instinctively do this, but you might have to work a bit to get your dog to return the ball to you. Yelling “Fetch” and bringing along treats can help.

Tag for Dogs
Just like the human game of tag, someone has to be “it,” giving other players -- including your dog -- a 10- to 15-second head start to run away before “it” can begin to chase others in a defined area. The first player tagged then becomes “it.” “Part of the fun is darting around and avoiding the dreaded ‘tag’: the point at which the person chasing touches another person or dog, making them ‘it’ in turn,” says Smith. Time the game in one-minute sessions, stopping play by yelling or blowing a whistle. The “it” individual at that point “must sit out until a new game starts,” she instructs. “The aim is to have one winner at the end of all the games.”

Be sure to have plenty of cool water for all players. For dog tag, Smith also says having more than one dog can up the fun. The dogs may never completely figure out what’s going on, but everyone will have a good time anyway.