The saying "love me, love my dog" may have some basis in reality: A new study suggests that pets can influence how we perceive potential dates.
That’s why Saturday’s Weird Animal Question of the Week is taking the author’s prerogative to ask: "Could your pet decide your future mate?"
Pets “add some twists and turns to our love lives," says study co-author Justin Garcia, an evolutionary biologist at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University and scientific advisor for the dating website Match.com. (Read "Dogs Are Even More Like Us Than We Thought.")
In 2014, Match.com and the retailer PetSmart surveyed about 2,300 single pet owners in the U.S. who had registered on Match.com. Of that number, 1,210 responded, 61 percent of whom were women. Sexual orientation was not questioned in the survey.
Respondents answered questions such as: “Would you judge a date based on their reaction to your pets?” and “Have you ever used a pet to attract a potential date?”
Garcia—along with biological anthropologists Peter Gray and Helen Fisher, chief scientific advisor for Match.com—analyzed the survey results, which appeared recently in the journal Anthrozoös.
Single guys who own adopted dogs: congratulations. You’re Hottie McChickMagnet. Ladies in the survey thought that men with adopted pets were most attractive, with dogs being “hottest” pet by a long shot (rabbits, hamsters, and guinea pigs were the least).
Women were also more likely than men to judge a date based on how that person reacted to their pet, with 553 women and 277 men saying this would make a difference. Garcia says this may be due to many women's focus on paternal care. (Read "We Didn’t Domesticate Dogs; They Domesticated Us.")
Because "humans are a cooperative-breeding species,” says Garcia, a man’s treatment of a pet can signal whether they will be “engaged with offspring and with family social duties, whether that means taking care of you or you and your children.”
The results also reflect the broader social trend of elevating pets from companions to family members, notes Shelly Volsche, co-author and biocultural anthropology graduate student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“People are parenting their pets more,” Volsche says. “So how we would expect a woman to behave based on her children’s response to a date, we’re seeing something similar happen with pets.”
Going to the Dogs
The results suggest that dogs are more useful barometers for singles assessing potential dates than other common pets, such as cats, Volsche adds.
Because dogs need more care than cats and are often more integrated into our domestic and social lives, dog owners' connections with their pets can be more easily observed by others.
That’s “helpful in the mating market,” Garcia says, where “you’ve not only got to have it, but you’ve got to make sure others know you have it.” (See "Can Dogs Feel Our Emotions? Yawn Study Suggests Yes.")
The survey data backs that up: Cat owners were less likely than dog owners to judge a date based on their response to a pet, or to think a pet says something about the owner’s personality.
So with the knowledge that dogs are catnip for some women, will guys start using them to lure ladies?
Some of them are way ahead of us.
On the question “Have you ever used a pet to attract a potential date?” more men than women answered “Yes."