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Dogs really look like their owners, and here’s why

Have you ever been told your dog looks like you? Well, you are not alone. There have been several studies on why your dog looks and acts just like you.  

The University of California, San Diego’s Michael Roy and Nicholas Christenfeld researched this phenomenon, using images of 25 purebred dogs and 20 mixed breeds. They went to three dog parks, photographing dogs and their owners, then they showed participants a picture of an owner and two dogs, asking people to match the dog and owners. Christenfeld and Roy found that the participants successfully paired 16 purebred dogs to their owners out of the possible 25.  

Then, Sadahiko Nakajima from Japan’s Kwansei Gakuin University conducted an experiment asking 70 students to match 40 purebred dogs to 40 owners. Nakajima also found the majority of people could identify photos of dogs and their owners.  

The question is, what is it that makes our four-legged best friends look like us? 

It's all in the eyes

Man with dog
ajr_images | iStock

Nakajima used images of dogs and owners, giving participants a sheet with the photographs of a dog and their owner and a sheet with a random match pair. Nakajima used 502 undergraduate students this time, asking them to match 20 dogs to 20 owners.   

Nakajima then included masking the images that obscured part of the dog and owner’s faces for his next test. He found that 80 percent of participants successfully matched a dog to its owner when the photos were unobstructed. That rate falls to 73 per cent if the mouths are covered. However, the success rates fell to chance levels of around 50 per cent if the eyes were covered.   

Much of the resemblance between dogs and their owners are in the eyes. Plus, in Nakajima’s, all owners were Japanese, which shows that the resemblance is beyond eye colour. Instead, the shape and expressions of the owner’s and dog’s eyes create a resemblance. 

Finding comfort in familiarity

woman with dog in kitchen
AleksandarNakic | iStock

While the key to resemblance is in the eyes, there is more to it. Nakajima credits the desire to surround ourselves with things that are familiar to us. Like with the subtle resemblances in the eyes of dogs and their owners, we often model our pets after our likeness. For example, women with long hair tend to prefer dogs with longer hair or floppy ears, or someone with a beard might prefer a scruffier dog. We think about our dogs like our family, so we would choose a dog to look like a part of our family.   

It comes down to evolution. We find comfort in this that are familiar and are cautious around new or different things. Psychologists have dubbed this desire the mere exposure effect. Some psychologists also believe that we choose dogs that look like us stems from how we evolved to find mates. Because we have memorized our own features, we tend to prefer a partner—and dogs—that look a little bit like us.   

Matching personalities

When we choose a dog, we often consider our lifestyle and personality. We want an animal that suits us and fits into our lives. We gravitate towards breeds with similar personalities and mannerisms as us. Optimistic, happy people usually choose a golden retriever or a French bulldog, and hard workers probably have a German shepherd or a border collie at home. Adventurous people who rarely sit still gravitate towards an Australian shepherd. These matching personalities are part of the reason our dogs resemble us.  

Each individual dog has its own personality, beyond its breed. In fact, dogs often mirror their owner’s personalities. Through the time you spend with your dog, your personality and behaviours will rub off on them. Your pet’s personality also changes as they age. Dog’s personalities and emotions often mirror our own emotions, and we see a pet that reflects our personality as a good fit for our life. Just like with the way our dogs look, we find comfort in dogs that act like we do.  

Help protect your furry lookalike

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