The Perfect Pooch for You

September 27, 2007 at 12:35 am 1 comment

The Perfect Pooch for You

Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

Sept. 26, 2007 — It may have been shocking to some when New York billionaire Leona Helmsley recently left a fortune to her Maltese dog, but the act is less surprising in light of new findings about the importance of the human/dog bond.

Relationships between people and their pets can be so strong, in fact, that in some cases they work better than partnerships between two people.

The new study — one of the first to apply methods used to analyze human relationships to human/dog pairs — also reveals clues as to what makes the best pooch-to-person match.

One surprising find is that a dog’s personality helps shape the relationship more than the person’s does.

Lead author Lisa Cavanaugh explained to Discovery News that “unlike human relationships, the partner’s personality — in our case the canine personality — contributes measurably to relationship satisfaction” while the person’s character seems to take a backseat.

Cavanaugh, a researcher at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, and her colleagues recruited dog owners from northeastern, southeastern and western parts of the United States to complete detailed questionnaires about themselves, their dogs, and their relationships with their dogs. The researchers then contacted recommended friends of participants to obtain their assessments.

The findings have been accepted for publication in the Journal of Business Research.

Two dog qualities usually predicted a successful match.

“A canine’s openness to new experience and agreeableness are the strongest predictors of relationship satisfaction,” explained Cavanaugh, who was surprised by that finding, since other studies suggest openness has little effect on satisfaction in close relationships.

She and her team suspect that “dogs’ generally trusting, non-judgmental, empathetic and curious nature enables them to blend into their owners’ family and home, and bring comfort and enjoyment into their lives.”

Another, somewhat surprising, find is that while people tend to dislike neuroticism in other people, they frequently like that quality in their dogs.

For example, co-author Hillary Leanord related a story about a prominent woman who recently dined with a U.S. senator. She brought along her dog, whom others commented was “crazy and somewhat anti-social.” The woman proudly called her dog “a true New Englander” who was not “insincerely nice” like someone from other parts of the country.

“In this case, the human owner seems to use the dog’s neuroticism to justify her own feelings and behavior,” Cavanaugh said. “Perhaps accepting and even celebrating the dog’s neuroticism is a way of accepting and celebrating herself.”

The researchers also noted that while human relationships often falter over time, thereby contributing less to a person’s overall well-being, human/dog bonds frequently strengthen over time.

Morris Holbrook, a professor of marketing at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business, told Discovery News that the new research “is a very nice piece of work.”

“We ordinarily don’t think of personality assessments being applied in this manner,” he said.

Both Cavanaugh and Holbrook even suggest that some people might be more satisfied with their dog friendships than with their human ones.

“Dogs provide unconditional love,” explained Holbrook. “You could be the worst scoundrel in the world and everyone else may hate you, but a loyal dog will always love you.”


Entry filed under: dogs.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. sheryl  |  September 28, 2007 at 5:31 am

    I’m so happy to see research being done on this topic. I see the loyalty time and time again at my Leashes and Lovers events where so many women especially bring their dogs. They are in search of the “right” guy and have a hard time finding him yet their relationship with their dog is a real lasting one. Stronger in some cases they say then with their friends and family.


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