Why People Really Do Look Like Their Dogs

“Histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends.” —Alexander Pope

In A Nutshell

We’ve all seen the pictures—the blonde woman with the long hair and her golden retriever, the jowly man and his bulldog. Those are extreme examples, but researchers have found that people really do resemble their dogs, to a degree that strangers are able to match photos of dogs and their owners with up to an 80 percent success rate. In addition to making mental connections between certain physical characteristics, it was found that the resemblance is all in the eyes.

The Whole Bushel

We’ve all seen the photos floating around the Internet about the dogs and owners who bear a striking resemblance to each other. It’s inevitably the permed woman with the poodle, the long-haired redhead with her Irish setter, or the blonde with her golden retriever. It turns out that it’s much, much more involved than just having the same coloring or hair length, and people are exceptionally good at pairing up pictures of dogs with their owners.

In 2009, researchers at the Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan conducted an experiment to try to determine what it was that made dogs and their owners so matchable. More than 500 people participated in the experiment, where they were shown sets of photos. Photos were of dogs with their real owners and dogs with random people. For each of the sets of photos, different parts of the pictures were covered—the eyes, the mouth, and so on.

When volunteers were shown the entire photo, they were right about 80 percent of the time. When owners’ mouths were covered, they were right an impressive 73 percent of the time, but when eyes were covered, their accuracy dropped to about 50 percent.

The results of the study led researchers to conclude that there was some kind of connection in the eyes of dogs and their owners that people who were unfamiliar with both could identify. While some pairs obviously resemble each other in coloring or style, the ability of people to match dogs and their owners with such regular success seemed to confirm that there really is something to people looking like their dogs—no matter what the breed.

So why do we look like our pets?

One theory states that it’s the exposure effect. We’re around each other so much, we just kind of wear off on each other. Another theory suggests that people are attracted to what they see as familiar in a dog; the law enforcement officer might be taken by the power and loyalty of the German shepherd or the husky, while the art student might gravitate toward something quite a bit different, like a trendy designer dog.

Some of it has to do with how we interpret appearances. It’s suggested that women who wear their hair long because they like the way that it looks on them will have the same appreciation for long hair in their companions, while people with short hair might prefer the ease of a wash-and-go dog.

There’s also the subject of weight and activity level. Studies have confirmed links between obesity in pets and obesity in their owners, adding to the similar appearance.

And, of course, there’s also the idea that there’s a reason they’re called man’s best friend. Chances are, most of us aren’t even aware of how much our dogs mimic us. In 2011, a study showed that when dogs watch their owners performing certain tasks, they’ll mimic favoring a left paw or right paw based on what they see their owners do. When you’re sad, your dog will give you the sad face; when you’re happy, she’ll smile. It’s not just something dogs share with any human, either. Yawns are contagious in many dogs, but only when they see their human doing it.

The results of the studies, in addition to confirming that we do actually look like our dogs, that we have a definite physical and spiritual connection with our dogs that is reflected in our eyes and theirs.

Show Me The Proof

Slate: What Makes People Look Like Their Pets?
The Atlantic: Why You Look Like Your Dog
Smithsonian: Why You Look Like Your Dog