The first Jack Russell terrier I ever met belonged to an instructor at a nearby riding school. The instructor was small, wiry, all-business, and thoroughly English. She was actually a bit terrifying, and so was her dog.
She ran that riding school like a tight, tight ship. I can still remember seeing her strut down the path between the corrals, chin up, shoulders back, her little dog close at her ankles, sticking out its little chest.
They looked exactly the same.
Do you look like your Jack Russell?
Why do so many dog owners look like their dogs? Is it because people and their dogs live similar lifestyles? Or do we subconsciously choose dogs that look like us? Or is there some other reason?
Science has some answers.
You might notice that a lot of people look startlingly like their dogs. It's not just your imagination. It's true, and science bears it out.
Researcher Michael Roy of the University of California, San Diego even tested the idea.
He went to a dog park, took pictures of dogs, and then took separate pictures of dog owners. Then he asked passers-by if they could pair the dogs with their owners, just by looking at the photos.
Turns out, they could. With unsettling accuracy. What's more, subsequent studies have backed up his findings.
That's right. Shy dog owners tend to have shy dogs. Bold and outgoing dog owners often have dogs who are the life of the party.
So, what's going on, here?
The Personality Issue
Let's look at the issue of personalities first.
The study in question was a collaboration between Eötvös University in Budapest, Hungary, and the School of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Vienna. This study looked at the “big five” personality traits: openness, neuroticism, agreeableness, extraversion, and conscientiousness.
The study found two things. First, that owners judged their dogs to be similar in these five traits. But also, and more interestingly, the family members of the dog owners also saw the similarities.
Did the dog owners pick out dogs that they thought were similar to them in personality? Or did their dogs alter their own behavior to reflect these traits in their owners?
Ultimately, the researchers concluded that it came down to owners' choice. That is, the dog owners in the study picked out — consciously or not — dogs that were similar to them in personality.
And it makes sense, if you think about it. An active, outgoing person is going to be happiest with a companion who is also active and outgoing. And for someone who likes things quieter and more mellow? They're going to be attracted to a friend who has a similar temperament.
But What About Appearance?
It's a fair assumption that many dogs and their owners are going to lead similar lifestyles. And everyone's lifestyle leaves its marks on their appearance.
But researchers in several studies found that the similarities don't stop there.
Long-haired people, for instance, are statistically more likely to have dogs with long, floppy ears. And if you look closely, dogs and dog owners are statistically likely to share even more subtle features, such as eye shape.
And have you ever thought that sometimes people and their dogs make similar facial expressions?
Turns out, a little of both.
So, when it comes to similarities in appearance, what's behind that? Owners' choices or dogs' skill as mimics?
Both Roy's study and the subsequent studies have shown that, whether they're doing it purposely or not, people tend to choose dogs who are similar in appearance to them.
And when it comes to nonverbal communication — well, that's your dog using every trick evolution gave them, to try to engage with you.
So we choose dogs that remind us of ourselves.
Scientists think it's because of a combination of factors.
First, people like seeing themselves reflected in their environment. It's why we respond to advertising that shows us a better version of ourselves made possible by a certain product. It's why we like to watch movies and TV shows about people who look like us and remind us of ourselves.
And it also may be one of the reasons we choose dogs that look and act like us.
Another reason is that people find familiarity comforting.
If we already know and understand something — like our own personality — then we search for similarity in others, because we already know how to deal with it. It's comforting. It makes us happy.
This explains why we're so inexplicably overjoyed when our children resemble us — and why some people unconsciously treat one of their children better than the other if they more closely resemble them.
This bias also exists when it comes to our dogs. In one study, participants rated dogs in photographs as more intelligent, loyal and friendly when the dog and the study participant shared certain characteristics such as hair length.
What Does Your Dog Say About You?
What does it say about someone that they choose a Jack Russell?
Well, that's a very complicated question!
Of course every dog, like every person, has a unique personality. And dogs, by and large, tend to adapt to the lifestyle of the household in which they're living.
But one could probably make a few generalizations.
First, many Jack Russell Terrier owners like a dog with a bit of fire and a bit of personality. So it's probably fair to say that Jack Russell Terrier lovers also have a bit of a spark themselves.
It's probably also fair to say that people who choose Jacks are no pushover. You can't be, if you don't want your Jack to rule the roost!
And of course, a Jack is always up for an adventure. So it's probably fair to say that Jack Russell lovers don't let the grass grow under their feet, either.
And of course, anyone who is lucky enough to be chosen by a Jack Russell has the very best taste!
Featured Image: CC BY-SA 4.0 by Hektor Violetta via Wikimedia Commons