2006-01-12 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets...

by Joanne Anderson

Pets, Pets, Pets...

by Joanne Anderson

Did Peter Lorre own a Pug? Did Shirley Temple have a Poodle? Recent research says that dogs really do resemble their owners. Strangers given separate photos of dogs and owners were often able to pair them. However, the observers could only link dogs to owners when the dogs were purebreds, and the length of time people had their dogs did not seem to help match ups. This study by 2 psychologists at University of California suggests that when people obtain a dog, "they seek one that, at some level, resembles them, and when they get a purebred, they get what they want."

The psychologists- Christenfeld and Roy- designed a dog/owner photo test. Forty five dogs and their owners were photographed separately. The digital pictures were taken so that the background was different for the dogs and people. Of these photos, 25 of the dogs were purebreds. Then 28 judges (college students) were asked to pick out the true match from photos of the owner and 2 dogs- one being the true pet.

The results published in the May ’04 journal "Psychological Science" found that a majority of the strangers paired 16 out of 25 purebreds, where only 7 out of the 20 mixed breed pooches with their human partner. This difference is statistically significant, but the scientists could not pin down all the physical or stylistic factors responsible for the strangers finding the resemblance. Hairiness or size was not a definite hint. Christenfeld felt that the only feature that may have been a useful clue was something less concrete- "perceived" friendliness.

Roy suggested that his findings reinforce the "birds of a feather flock together" idea. People may select dogs that look like them as a way to reinforce their lifestyle. When a person obtains a purebred as a pup, there’s certainty to how the dog will look when it matures. A pet is an addition to the family. In some subtle way he may look like a blood relative. For example, for centuries some Toy breeds like Pekingese, primarily lap dogs, have been selectively bred to have flat faces so their eyes appear more child-like. My Toy Spaniel’s expression l could pass for Emmet Kelly the clown.

The results also rule out another psychological phenomenon called "convergence"- as in married couples who start to look like each other after many years of wedded bliss. In this experiment, there was no correlation between how long the dogs and people had been together and the raters’ ease at pairing them. If convergence were a factor, time together would have helped the mixed breed matches too, but it didn’t. In other words, you don’t start looking like Lassie after a lifetime together; instead you chose Lassie way back when, because there’s something "Collie" about you.

So much for science. I don’t buy into the conclusions completely. What about the folks who adopt an adult mixed dog? Might "love at first sight" at a shelter be subliminal self-reflection also? At dog shows, you see 2 extremes- the handlers that mesh with their breed and those who are the antithesis. Sometimes the person running the svelte Saluki around the ring could use a few miles on the treadmill herself. Yet when pup and person do look alike, it seems intentional. We had a hot shot chocolate Standard Poodle in agility class with his Bobsey Twin as an owner. I swear they go to the same groomer.

Presently there are about 80 entries in the Owner Look- Alike category in Purina’s online Dog Show USA. About half have mixed breeds. Those owners mustn’t know that purebreds have the advantage. They all have accentuated their resemblance with make-up, accessories and similar poses. Perhaps they are helping "canine convergence" along. (Remember you can vote for all your favorites from 1/18-1/23, by browsing the "Dog Gallery" at www.dogshowusa.com. 15 hometown dogs from the Babylons are part of the total entry of 29,000 dogs.)

On a personal note, I’d be insulting elegant Afghan hounds, past and present, by insisting any of mine looked like me. Still they do have very "human" profiles, and the breed has fooled many when they whiz by in the back of a convertible. Among my 5, I had a blonde Afghan that looked like Barbra Streisand, a black one that was often mistaken for Howard Stern, and now the black & tan Beauty Queen who fancies herself as a young Yvonne DeCarlo. Worrying that this study may be accurate, I try not to look into the mirror, because my facial composite would give me nightmares.

The Babylon Shelter poster dogs this week are trying their best pose so you perceive "friendliness" or a personal resemblance. "Roo" in Cage 59 is a very well- trained large Min Pin mix. She knows how to play with the ball, sits, stays, and rolls over on command. She springs around like a kangaroo, and an old injury to a back leg takes a moment to warm up and then there’s no stopping her fun. "Miracle", the white Pit mix in Cage 5, has been at the shelter since Oct. Before Christmas, a family from NYC emailed the shelter website ( Petfinder NY 275) that he was the Christmas miracle, their long lost dog alive and well again. We knew the chance was remote, but they sent someone to check. He wasn’t. Now this sweet guy, who loves belly rubs, is waiting for his own miracle. The shelter (643-9270) at 51 Lamar St. W. Babylon is open for dog & cat adoptions 10- 3:30 on weekdays and 10-2:30 on Sat.

Females: "Miss Piggy"- the website’s featured dog in Cage 49; "Maybelline"- a pretty Shepherd in Cage 89; "Brandy"- a Hound mix in Cage 93; "Whitey"- a Lab mix in Cage 55. Males: "Scooter"- a young Shepherd in Cage 45; "Charlie"- a Ridgeback mix in Cage 9. Low Cost Spay /Neuter: Island Rescue in Bay Shore- 968-8700.

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