3 Surprising Facts About Dog Owners, According to Science

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You’ve seen the meme. You may have the t-shirtI like my dog better than most people. Maybe your friends and family joke that you’d choose the dog over them.

Nah, you might say. But would it surprise you to know that science comes down on their side?

Recent studies have shown three interesting facts about dog owners, and they may come as a bit of a surprise. Or maybe not.

Fact #1: We Have More Empathy for Dogs Than for Fellow Humans

Well, adult humans, anyway.

Students from Northeastern University in Boston and the University of Colorado at Boulder wondered which could provoke the greatest empathy: children, puppies, dogs, or adults.

Their study, published in the journal Society and Animals, had respondents read fake news stories about the same violent attack on a one-year-old baby, a 30-year-old adult, a puppy, and a six-year-old dog. The study hypothesized that the more vulnerable the victim of the attack, the more empathy it would generate.

The hypothesis turned out to be correct…mostly. In all cases, the test participants responded with the most empathy for the human baby. Next came the dogs. It didn’t seem to matter whether the dog was an adult or a puppy. Finally, the human adult elicited the least amount of empathy.

So there you have it. Unless you’re talking about a baby, a lot of us are more bothered by violence against dogs than against people.

On an anecdotal note, I can’t be the only one who can watch a film where bad things happen to humans — so long as the dog makes it out unscathed.

And I don’t feel bad about it at all. It’s just science, after all.

Fact #2: Yes, We Really Do Read Our Dogs’ Facial Expressions

And they really are using those expressions to try to communicate with us.

For a long time, many people thought that facial expressions in animals were involuntary movements that the animals made in response to stimuli, rather than attempts to engage and communicate. But a study by Juliane Kaminski of the Portsmouth University Dog Cognition Center shows otherwise.

The study hypothesized that if facial expressions were simply involuntary movements that demonstrated a dog’s emotional state, then the dogs would display these expressions at the same rate in response to both food treats and human attention without treats.

What happened, though, was different.

When the dogs in the study had the humans’ attention, they raised their eyebrows, widened their eyes, showed their tongues and vocalized more than when the humans were looking away. The dogs did not increase these expressions when food was presented, as long as the humans were looking away.

This, the study concluded, means that dogs really do use facial expressions to try to communicate with us.

So when dog owners talk about their dogs’ facial expressions, we’re not imagining things! Science has our backs.

Fact #3: Dogs vs. Cats? It’s No Contest

Enough of dogs vs. humans, though — what about the age-old rivalry of dogs and cats? Or rather, dog people vs. cat people?

A recent survey by the insurance company LendEDU asked pet owners two questions. First, how much do they spend annually on their pets? The company also asked how much they would be willing to spend to save their pets from a life-threatening medical condition.

Dog owners came out on top in both categories. When it came to splashing out on day-to-day expenses, dog owners reported spending around $2000 per year on their dogs, while cat owners reported spending half that. Interestingly, people who owned both dogs and cats reported spending more on their cats — around $1,500 per year, but only $1,400 per year on their dogs.

And when it came to lifesaving medical treatment? Dog owners were willing to go all the way up to $10,500, while cat owners topped out at $3,500 to save their cat’s life.

It’s Me Or the Dog. Ok, I’ll Miss You.

When it comes to our dogs, many of us really will choose them over people. We’re happy to spend thousands per year on their happiness, and we swear they’re trying to tell us something. And, according to science, we’re absolutely right about that.

Featured Image: CC0 via Pxhere

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