Washington - Attention dog-loving singles! A new study has confirmed what so many dog park visits and “yappy hours” and gimmicky Instagram accounts have already made so obvious: Your furry friend can help get you ... happy.
But there is, of course, a caveat: Using Fido as date-bait is far more effective if you happen to be a single guy. (Sigh. Even dog ownership isn't exempt from male privilege.)
The study, titled The Roles Of Pet Dogs And Cats In Human Courtship And Dating and published this month in the quarterly research journal Anthrozoos, surveyed random Match.com users in the United States who included pet info in their dating profiles. Of the 1 210 people who responded, 61 percent were women - and dogs and cats were by far the most common pets listed.
(Still no word from science on the impact of exotic pets on one's dating life; though I do know a guy who made his future wife choose between him and her parrot after the bird repeatedly tried to bite his face.)
The study's researchers theorised that “women will place more value on how a potential mate interacts with their pet than will single men” - and the results proved them right: The ladies were more than twice as likely as the gents to say that they were attracted to someone because he had a pet, and also about twice as likely to judge their date based on how they reacted to a furry companion.
(Sorry, cat-lovers. Dogs are more commonly used as social barometers in the dating scene - about 32 percent of the 20-something women surveyed said that a guy with a feline friend was a potential deal-breaker.)
So why are women more likely to swoon over a partner with a dog? “Put in terms of evolutionary and life history theory, females allocate a higher proportion of their reproductive effort to parenting while males expend more energy on mating,” the researchers said. Basically: Women are more likely to want a guy who seems like he would be a responsible, caring parent; guys are more likely to want a girl who seems like she would look good in a bikini.
The study (which has some notable limitations - the survey sample comes exclusively from the online dating pool, and includes only heterosexual, gender-normative people) pointed out that because pets are increasingly treated like members of the family, their role as a stand-in for potential future kids is all the more significant.
Hence the “Hot Dudes with Dogs” account on Instagram, and those Purina Puppy Chow “Puppyhood” video ads featuring that floppy-haired guy and his floppy-eared puppy: All just a shameless ploy to win over the ladies by using our evolutionary instincts against us. (THAT GUY AND THAT PUPPY, THOUGH.)
Men are onto this tactic, too. Guys were more than twice as likely to admit that they've used a pet to lure a potential date, the study said - and dogs were used far more than cats as this sort of “social tool.”
But the romantic perks of dog ownership don't necessarily extend to women, according to the survey as well as my own highly unscientific follow-up research, i.e. reviewing my own personal history and calling a couple of dog-owning women.
Deborah Ben-Moshe, a single District of Columbia resident and proud owner of Georgie, a three-year-old mixed breed pup, told me that she's hopelessly charmed by guys who are into her dog. She still remembers the man who responded to her dating profile with a note that said: “I can't decide who is cuter, you or your dog” - but she more often encounters guys who seem a bit daunted by a woman who has committed to pet ownership.
“Women see a guy with a dog, and they see a guy who is responsible and wants to settle down, and that's really endearing,” Ben-Moshe says. “But for women with a dog, I think guys may see that and feel like, holy crap, this girl is ready to have babies and settle down. ... And I think that might be scary for them.”
When I first started dating my husband, he was definitely not thrilled about my dog, Maggie, and he was REALLY not psyched at the prospect of living with her. Flash-forward two years, and he now regularly serenades her and tucks her into her bed like a child. So keep an open mind, fellas.
And do you really want to waste your time with a guy who is spooked by a dog anyway? Online dating coach Erika Ettin, author of “ Love at First Site: Tips and Tales for Online Dating Success from a Modern-Day Matchmaker ,” notes that her dog, Scruffy, has often revealed certain traits in would-be partners.
“I've learned that owning a dog tells me if you're a germaphobe, it tells me if you're high-strung,” she says. “If you sit on my couch, you'll probably get some dog hairs on you. And I don't necessarily want to be with someone who is that uptight about a few dog hairs.”
And when it comes to dating, there is at least one perk of dog ownership that works for men and women: “I've used Georgie as an excuse to get out of a bad date,” Ben-Moshe says. “So, that's a positive!”
Caitlin Gibson is a feature writer at The Washington Post.