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01/08/2016, 12:00

The phenomenon of people choosing pets who look like them is a scientific fact

Dr Kate Adams is constantly told she looks like her golden retriever, Ben. And she never takes offence because she agrees. As it turns out it’s not just a coincidence. The phenomenon of people choosing pets who look like them is a scientific fact.

“It’s definitely something I’ve noticed in my profession and it can happen on many levels: the blonde with a blonde dog, an anxious owner whose pet is also anxious, or the fit person with an active dog,” says Adams, owner of Bondi Veterinary clinic.

“And it’s a great thing because if people choose pets that are suitable for their lifestyle, it’ll be a happy and successful pairing.”

A few years ago, US academic Nicholas Christenfeld, from the University of California, noticed that pets in children’s books were often drawn to resemble their owners. He and his then student Michael Roy set out to see if the phenomenon had any scientific merit.

Roy, now a psychology professor in Pennsylvania, went to three local dog parks and photographed pets and their owners separately, then asked participants to see if they could match pet with owner.

Dr Kate Adams and her “lookalike” golden retriever, Ben. Picture: Justin LloydSource:News Corp Australia

They found that about two-thirds of the owners were accurately matched.

“We were surprised at first that you could only match purebred dogs with their owners, not mutts,” Roy tells BW Magazine. “However, after thinking about it, it seemed to make sense. You know what you are getting when you get a purebred — how big they will be, how active, how friendly and how they will look.

“It is not necessarily that the dog and owner physically resembled each other; it is that there was something about their appearance that allowed people to match them together and may have to do with a number of different traits. For example, you might look at someone who is outgoing and athletic (things that can be predicted from appearance) and think that they would be much more likely to own a labrador than a smaller, quiet dog like a poodle.”

Fellow US academic Stanley Coren believes the truth may lie in the principal of familiarity, a subconscious hardwiring that means we choose what is familiar to us because it’s safe.

“There is a psychological mechanism which explains why a person might choose a dog 
that looks similar to themselves, and it is subtle yet simple,” he wrote in the journal Psychology Today. “Simply put, we like things that are familiar. This explains why people go back, year after year, to hear the same opera and why radio stations that play only ‘oldies’ are so popular.”

Maree Kastrounis, 10, and her mini sausage dog Lily . Picture: Toby ZernaSource:News Corp Australia

Stacey Kastrounis says the resemblance between her 10-year-old daughter Maree and her chocolate dachshund, Lily, is obvious.

“The match in the hair colour is particularly striking,” Kastrounis says. “And the funny thing is Maree waited six months so she could have that particular colour dog, so maybe there is something in the fact they go for a similar look.”

But Kersti Seksel, of the Sydney Animal Behaviour Service, says while it can be fun to have a pet you resemble, choosing the right companion should be based on more than looks.

“I can see why people may be attracted to certain features in a pet,” Seksel says. “We know that, as humans, we are attracted to big eyes or perhaps having had a border collie as a child could make you feel nostalgic for the same kind of pet as an adult.

“But it is much more important to choose a pet based on temperament and personality. You need to think about your lifestyle and how a pet would fit into it; if you’re out a lot, perhaps a cat might be better than a dog, or if you live in an apartment, you may prefer a dog that doesn’t need a lot of exercise.

“The element of abandonment occurs due to a mismatch of personality between an owner and a pet, and that’s what we don’t like to see.”

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