By Dr. Becker
Results of a study on human-canine interactions suggest that dogs approach men more often than women.1
According to researchers from the University of Vienna, Austria and the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition in the U.K., it’s not known why the gender of an owner should affect whether a dog approaches, but they theorize it might have something to do with sex-associated roles observed in wolves.
Lead author Manuela Wedl suggests “The sensitivity of dogs to owner sex may be rooted in their wolf ancestry, where sexes engage in distinctly different social roles.”
The study also found that neurotic owners and neurotic dogs appear to be sensitive to each other’s needs, and spend more close time together than non-neurotic pairs. Also, dogs owned by men – especially neurotic men – approach their owners more often than dogs of female owners. But this doesn’t mean they necessarily prefer men to women.
The study, titled “Relational factors affecting dog social attraction to human partners,” was published in 2010 in the journal Interaction Studies, and according to Discovery News, it adds to the growing body of evidence that pet owner gender and personality may influence an animal’s social attraction to the person.
Neurotic Men with Neurotic Dogs Are Magnets for Each Other
For the study, the researchers observed how dogs and their owners interacted during an experiment. Participants included 10 male and 12 female owners of male dogs. Prior to the start of the experiment, the owners completed questionnaires that helped the researchers determine their personality type and how they felt about their dog.
The owners were then asked to look at 15 pictures of dogs that hung from the walls and windows of a room. While viewing the pictures, they were to write down three words they felt were related to each picture. This was actually just to keep the owners occupied so the researchers could evaluate what happened next.
As each owner studied the pictures and took notes, his or her dog was let into the room and the researchers observed how quickly the dog approached the owner and also how long it remained close.
According to Discovery News, neurotic men with neurotic dogs (“neurotic” for purposes of this study was defined as not confident, anxious, and less vocal and aggressive) were “magnets for each other.” The dogs headed straight for their owners as soon as they entered the room, and the pairs stayed close together.
However, Wedl acknowledged that overall, the research team didn’t find any effect of owner gender on the amount of time dogs stayed close to or were oriented toward their owners. And in fact, the dogs belonging to neurotic women also tended to stay close by their side.
A Dog Owner’s Personality Can Invite or Discourage a Pet’s Approach
The upshot of the study seems to be that an owner’s personality may cause the person to behave in a way that either encourages or discourages social attraction in dogs. Wedl uses this example:
“Owners scoring high on neuroticism may mainly regard their dogs as being a social supporter and thus will frequently interact with them and reinforce spatial closeness with their dogs.”
The study also observed that the more important it was for an owner to spend time with his or her dog, the longer the pair stayed in close proximity to each other.
But according to Andrea Beetz of the University of Rostock, who also studies the interactions between dogs and humans, the frequency of a dog’s approach to his owner can’t be accurately interpreted as proof the dog prefers the owner to others.
If a dog makes frequent approaches to his owner but doesn’t maintain contact, it may suggest the pet wants more contact, but it might also suggest the dog is insecure and is seeking reassurance with frequent approaches.
Wedl and her research colleagues are planning a larger study to continue to evaluate dog social interactions with human partners.