Why People End Up With Dogs That Look and Act Like Them · The Wildest

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Science Says People Pick Dogs That Look (and Act) Like Themselves

Do you have a dog type? Here's why people are drawn to certain pups.

by Nisha Gopalan
March 12, 2024
Curly haired woman cuddling her brown poodle dog.
Vera Lair / Stocksy

The bond between dogs and their humans goes back as many as 20,000 to 40,000 years, when hunter gatherers began to dote on wolf pups . Since then, we’ve come to rely on canines to provide us with emotional support, reduce cortisol levels (aka stress), boost oxytocin levels (aka the “love hormone”), and decrease the risk of heart disease. Nothing bad, we’ve learned, comes from welcoming dogs into our lives. 

That explains why we like pups. But why do certain people prefer teacups over larger breeds? Goofy dogs over fussier ones? Purebreds over mixes? Some of it is old-fashioned narcissism. According to a 2004 study published in Psychological Science, “When people pick a pet, they seek one that, at some level, resembles them.”

According to Discover magazine, some scientists chalk this up to the “mere-exposure effect,” or our tendency to like things that are more familiar to us — like the face we see in the mirror each day. This could also include preferring a dog that looks like us, or simply gravitating towards the types of dogs we grew up with or around.

Studies also show that we tend to choose partners that are more like us personality-wise —and this may apply to dogs as well. Research from 2012 found significant correlation in attitude between dogs and their people. “The correlation between the pair wasn’t a reflection of how long the dog had been living with their owner, meaning that they weren’t engaging in simple mimicry,” reported Discover. “Rather, the pup’s personality seemed to be part of what attracted its owner to begin with.”

Breed, it turned out, has little to do with it. A study published in Science, which featured more than 18,000 dog parents, found that, “breed offers little predictive value for individuals, explaining just nine percent of variation in behavior.” So when we truly connect with a dog, it’s kind of like when we vibe with a human. We are drawn to their individual traits, and not the stereotypes associated with them.

To celebrate this unique bond, we reached out to a handful of pet parents who have bona-fide obsessions with their dogs, to learn what drew them to their beloved pups.

“I like a Velcro temperament: She has eyes only for me.” 

Nikki from Dallas, on Watts, her 6-year-old German Shepherd/Lab mix

“I was married to this man who wanted my then 14-year-old son to like him. So he was like, ‘I’m gonna get you a puppy.’ I did not want the puppy. But I’ve always liked big dogs, so I just picked out the biggest puppies. I guess that’s my type: a giant dog. And I like a Velcro temperament: She has eyes only for me. My son is almost 20 now. She’s got that German Shepherd protectiveness. When he’s home from college, she sits in the hallway and watches one of us from one room and one from the other. I think moving forward, I only want black Shepherd mixes now.

I grew up with Golden Retrievers and Poodles. I just instinctively like to feel protected. I actually work in a hospital. As soon as a woman is assaulted, I meet her and help her through that situation. Oftentimes I do say, ‘Do you have a dog at home?’ Because usually that gives a woman something to focus on as they’re going through the trauma. I’ve been assaulted, and I got into that terrible marriage. And Watts really did save my life, because she gave me a reason to get up every day.

Also, she’s a bit of a loner like I am. Like, I really do think that she is my world. We travel all over, go camping together, and meet people together. I won’t take a vacation unless I can take her.”

“There’s something about the misfit aspect that is appealing to me.”

Stephen from New York City, on Pepita, his 5-year-old Chihuahua/Pomeranian/Spaniel mix

“There’s something about the misfit aspect that is appealing to me. There’s actually some stats that Chihuahuas are like the least desired dogs, the least adopted dogs. They’re harder to home. She’s so cute, but she’s also crazy. I’ve been small-dog-pilled. I didn’t think I liked them or had a strong, positive feeling for them. But from now on, I feel like any dog that I would get, I prefer it to be small. There’s all these ways that your life as a dog owner becomes easier: We can carry her on the subway, airplanes, trains — just put her in a bag.

What I’ve learned about small dogs is they really do have that Napoleon complex. She’s so sweet and affectionate to us, but if she sees another dog on the street, she hates them. I think it’s all rooted in this fear, which at first really freaked us out, because we had to manage this dog who seemed like a jerk. But over time, that’s just kind of grown on me, ‘Oh, you poor thing. You’re so scared.’ I take pity on her. 

She loves being on you, or next to you. I’m very happy to spend an afternoon on the couch under a cover, curled in a ball, and so is she — right next to me, as close as she can. That’s kind of the thing I wanted in a dog. She’ll just stare at you. It’s like she’s obsessed with me. You know, I’m obsessed with her, too. It’s like, ’What do you see in me? I see it in you.’”

“He’s just, like, my friend.”

Laura from Los Angeles, on Eddie, her 8-year-old Cocker Spaniel/Border Collie mix

I had a friend who worked with this guy who lived in Bakersfield. Eddie had followed him home when he was jogging. He sent me a picture of him: Eddie was on top of a giant pile of foam, his little head peeking out. He’s like, ‘Well, we can do a trial. You know, see how it works.’ So he brought him down. [My husband] came home from work, and cried when he saw him. 

I always wanted a dog that was not too big, like, medium size — not a tiny lap dog, but one that you can bring with you to travel. He’s chill. Well, for the most part, except around other dogs or tennis balls. He just entertains himself and is very snuggly. And he makes hilarious goblin sounds when you play. There’s a certain look of contentment on his face when his head is out the window in a car. He’s just, like, my friend.

My friend Ashley says he looks like a prince who was cursed to be inside of an animal’s body forever. We call him perma-puppy because he always looks like a little puppy. And he has little puppy energy. The first day I had him, I took him on a walk and a fire truck went by. He just threw his whole body back, like, ‘owwwwwwww.' I’ve never seen a dog do that before. He made us more active. Like, you want to hike. You want to explore. He’s our reason to leave the house. He is everything I ever wanted.”

“I think it was her personality. She’s very expressive.”

Courtney from Dallas, on Casey, her 11-year-old Beagle

“I didn’t love her at first. I ended up fostering Casey for five months before I adopted her. She was the saddest, most scared little girl, and just wanted a lot of love. They put on her paperwork that she was two years old. She was not — she was six months old. She had a lot of puppy behavior and was very naughty. 

I kept taking her to adoption events. They would put her in a crate, and she would just go to sleep and not interact with anyone. So she never got adopted. I think she decided that she was my dog, long before I did. After a few months, I took a vacation to visit my family in Virginia. The whole time — a friend of mine was dog-sitting her — I just couldn’t stop thinking about Casey and if she was okay, if she was happy, if she missed me. I knew I had to adopt this dog.

I think it was her personality. She’s very expressive. She’s always been a dog that looks like she’s smiling. She’s excited about everything: to go outside, to smell things, to meet new people. After I adopted her, I took her to a dog park…just down the street from our house. I met all these great people from very different walks of life in my neighborhood, who I otherwise would have never met. It totally changed my experience of New York City.

At the time that I got her, Casey was more the yin to my yang. She’s brought these traits out in me. We really like to try out new places and not just have the same routine. It’s like these traits that I like about her were things within myself that I wasn’t letting out. And she changed that.”

“All they want to do is make you happy.”

Frank from Seattle, on Poncho, his late Maltese, and Bamboo, his 3-year-old Maltese

“Malteses were introduced to me by Doug Marsh from Built to Spill. [Frank is the band’s publicist.] Doug had brought his Maltese out to a music festival and carried her around in a Baby Bjorn. While he was getting ready for the show, I ended up being the person that carried her around the festival and bonded with her really quickly. His wife happened to know a woman who ran a rescue outside of Boise, Idaho. She brought Poncho out to us — we had him for nine years. 

They’re just a sweet, loyal, loud breed. We joke all the time about wishing we had a mute button for them. Because they are talking nonstop. But they’re also personable. Poncho was, from the beginning, a take-charge little dude. I mean, he was like, ‘Let’s go!’ You were always following his lead. He wanted to be friends with everybody. There was this one night when we first introduced him to our friends, and they all came over to the house to hang out. We all swore he was talking to us, he was just mouthing the words ‘I know’ over and over. It would always be timed perfectly. Then he passed in October 2020.

When we got Bamboo [a month later]…this guy was super timid and just really sweet. Poncho would walk five miles no problem, but Bamboo maybe walks to the end of the block and then needs to be carried the rest of the way. The fact that they’re small, I think maybe there is a little bit of a parenting instinct there, because we don’t have kids ourselves. They are small enough, and there’s that cute, cuddly factor that I enjoy.

But I think more than anything I just love how boisterous they are. They can be pretty in-your-face. They really try to get you to engage with them. All they want to do is make you happy.”

“She takes better care of me than I take of her.”

Leslie from New York City, on Sammie, her 12-year-old English Bulldog

I’d been hit by a yellow cab while crossing the street in New York. I’d gone through a couple years of really excruciating pain: difficulty walking, experimental spinal surgery. I had a fair amount of trepidation about just being out and crossing streets. Getting Sammie, I was forced to take her on walks. My energy wasn’t focused on me, it was all focused on her and training her on a leash and seeing how cute she was. People would stop us on the street, and I started making friends. That fear of being out melted away.

It wasn’t that I was looking specifically for a Bulldog. I will say I wanted a dog that was bigger, that could keep me warm. I wanted to feel a dog’s whole belly under my hand. And, you know, I fell in love with this particular puppy that happened to be a Bulldog.

First of all, the snores are the frickin’ best part. Anyone who can’t enjoy an audio recording of a Bulldog snoring, there’s something wrong with them. The thing I love about the Bulldog breed in particular is that Sammie has so much face that her expressions communicate…I can’t necessarily tell what all dogs are thinking, but you look at a bulldog and, like, they make actual expressions with all those wrinkles. And also you get to squeeze their cheeks. It’s like having a cartoon character in the apartment. 

One guy [in an online forum] said — and this will stay with me forever — ‘Understand that when you get a Bulldog, they love hard.’ They will literally lay on you and not let you get off the couch. Sammie is pretty gentle, but they’re not little delicate creatures. When Sammy was a puppy, I’d left her for an afternoon with my mom. When I got home, Sammie was so mad at me. She turned her back to me and sort of fawned over my mother, while looking over her shoulder at me to make sure that I knew she was ignoring me and giving another person attention. I’m sorry, but that’s the funniest thing ever. Bulldogs are hilarious and they are like little buttheads. 

She is just as happy laying on the couch and doing nothing. She’s got at max 20 minutes of party in her. And she takes better care of me than I take of her.

nisha gopalan illustration

Nisha Gopalan

Nisha Gopalan has been a writer/editor for The New York Times, New York magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and NYLON magazines. She currently resides in Los Angeles.

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