My regular readers know I am not a big fan of picking sides in the ages-old debate about cats and dogs. I love my two dogs, Janice and Leroy, and also adore most dogs that I meet. I happen to find cats irresistible, as well. Throughout my life I have lived with several cats and thought of them as magical, enchanting beings (even when they barfed on the sofa or caught a bird in the garden). So, I don’t really feel it is right, fair or proper to say, “I am a cat person” or “I am a dog person”. If you love animals, it should be tough to pick sides.
Now that I have had my say on the matter, let me share with you the realities around the issue of the world’s millions of “dog people”.
Is the Population Going to the Dogs?
A recent study done on the habits of the group known as “millennials” (what the people over at Pew Research define as “those born between 1981 and 1996 and the first generation to come of age in the new millennium”) says that this generation is more interested in caring for their dogs than raising a family!
As the report noted, millennials (who are currently the largest generation in the U.S. labor force) are “less likely to become parents of ‘human children’ because they are instead focusing on their pets.”
This is not just a hypothetical or something taken from a single, narrow look at millennials, however. Publications and groups like CNBC and Money magazine have also reported on the fact that “Millennials Are Buying Homes Because of Their Dogs,” explaining that 73 percent of the generation own pets and that 89 percent of millennials who purchased homes in 2017 were pet owners. Almost 80% of them admitted they would skip over a property if it wasn’t a good fit for their pets’ needs. And most said that they preferred to buy because renting with pets is too challenging or even impossible.
What About Kids?
And when asked pointed questions about their decisions to raise families, almost half of those polled said they were unsure if a family was part of their future plans. However, the vast majority of them indicated that pet ownership was an absolute goal. Are they opting for animals as a substitute for families? It is tough to say. Some say yes, and those who do say it has to do with a few things:
- This generation is less likely to be married (around 50% are married or indicate interest in marriage)
- This generation is financially savvy and even leery due to the 2008 financial crisis.
Raising pets is less costly, offers companionship, and can even help you test out the waters of commitment and parenting without hefty financial risks or challenges.
- The world, in general, is becoming pet friendlier and traveling with a dog is easier than ever before. Many millennials own pets at a younger age than other generations, and habitually travel with them
So, it is safe to say that if you are a millennial and you have a dog, it may be that they rank as a major priority in terms of housing and other life decisions. You don’t have to be part of the millennial generation to feel that way, or at least to prefer dogs to people. After all, people from every generation are happy to label themselves dog or cat people.
The big question, though, is not whether we are becoming a society that favors dogs over cats. It is whether we are starting to prefer pets over people? For this article, we’ll look mostly at the dog v. people debate to find answers. Psychologists and behaviorists say that you have to ask yourself a lot of additional questions to be sure on the answer, either way. So, let’s roll up our sleeves, pose the questions and try to get to the bottom of it.
First Things First: Know What You Are Up Against
Lots of articles and studies in the past few years have explained a lot of the reasons for typical cat or dog behaviors. For instance, the fact that cats don’t “meow” at each other in the same ways that they speak to their humans is pretty revealing. They have evolved to know that cries that hit the same ranges as human baby cries get the biggest bang for the buck. That sort of manipulation is pretty shocking, and I have heard a lot of people express dislike for cats because of that fact alone.
Yet, dogs, too are no saints. After all, I wrote a bit about the ways that puppies have evolved to hit “peak cuteness” at the moment their mothers abandon them. In other words, at just the age that humans find them adorable!As noted in a National Geographic article on the issue, “Science says that if they’re cute enough, puppies can make it by tricking humans into adopting them…Since newly abandoned pups are competing with each other for human heartstrings, evolution says they should be most adorable around six and 11 weeks. This is around the time they’re weaned and let go of by their mothers.”
Ironically, this is the moment when pups develop characteristics that humans consider appealing, and these characteristics appear across multiple species. For instance, unstable and flopping limbs, a soft and rounded body, and large forward facing eyes are all traits of human babies, but also pups in that age range described above.
Scientists have a name for it: kinderschema, and it is something essential for human babies to survive but is also what draws us to pups of weaning (vulnerable) age. Again, as National Geographic reported, these traits, “activate the decision-making part of the brain to encourage you to protect and nurture the baby. At the same time, the brain’s pleasure center releases dopamine. With these two reactions, your brain makes you want to protect the baby and rewards you for doing so.”
And it will do this whether it is a human or a pup! Yet, it is not puppyhood where the manipulation ends.
As an article in The Guardian explained, “A study recently published in the journal Scientific Reports found that dogs move their faces far more when humans are looking at them than otherwise, suggesting that those expressions are attempts to communicate with us…light widening of the eyes – a trait they noted as common among dogs looking at humans – is a direct shot at your misplaced nostalgia for their puppyhood.”
Of course, it all makes sense when you consider how many eons dogs and humans have lived side by side, cooperated and bonded. Dogs are just attuned to humans in a way few other animals are, with the exception of the domestic housecat. So, they can communicate with us in addition to being visually appealing to us throughout their lives. They trigger reward pathways in the brain, and demand far less of us though they repay us in friendship, affection and comfort a great deal more than many human relationships – or so it seems.
That means human relationships are really facing some serious competition when it comes down to liking people more than dogs. It would seem like the dogs are going to take the prize fairly easily. Yet, let’s not just make assumptions. After all, there are stories of people who adore their dogs and yet their dogs seem to hate them, and people who fawn all over their dogs, and yet the dogs run the show.
In fact, in another article about dog manipulation (from Modern Dog Magazine), a pet behaviorist explains the biggest “downside” to dogs and their ability to communicate through expressions and learned behaviors. Raising their eyebrows when you eat or say certain words, scratching at a door to get into the same room…these are all examples of “your dog getting what he wants by behaving in a calculated way. And really, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Smart dogs! The problem comes when your dog is the one making the decisions.”
I have written a lot about obedience training and establishing order in the home. It is good for all involved. Dogs look to us for guidance and instruction, and if we fail to provide it, they intuitively take charge. As that same behaviorist said, “What you ask your dog to do when he wants something isn’t as important as the fact that you’re asking him to do something in order to earn the valued resource. That’s called leadership. In social groups, whether human or canine, the one with the most power gets to agree to or veto the ideas of others…The bottom line is, you get to decide whether to ignore your dog’s request or to give in—but again, if you do, ask her to do something to earn it. Manipulative? Maybe, but only in the best sense of the word.”
Let a dot rule the roost and it can end in tears or even tragedy or injury. As I said, you have to know what your up against. Yes, it was in the context of figuring out if you are a dog person more than a people person, but doesn’t it make sense to be clear about any manipulation at work, too? You don’t want to find out you are your dog’s puppet!
How to Test Your People-Friendliness v. Your Dog-Friendliness
Now it is time to start asking the big questions, and it is important for you to give only honest responses and answers. This is the sure-fire way to recognize whether or not you are authentically apt to prefer dogs to humans.
- Do you have less tolerance for certain behaviors from humans that you don’t mind at all in dogs? As a prime example, you are walking in the mall or a park and the people in front of you stop and go, walk slowly and seem to idle or wander a bit. It makes you agitated and annoyed. Yet, let your dog do the exact same thing while walking outdoors, and you are happy to stop and go, walk slowly and idle or wander around. Whether it is hot or cold, night or day, you have no problem giving the dog the time, space and leeway that you don’t give fellow humans. Uh-oh…you could be a dog person and NOT a people person.
- Your friends just had a new baby and you have to remind yourself to put on a good show if the newbie is not the most adorable or appealing little thing you’ve seen. Even if the baby is cute, the most you can muster is an “Oh, how sweet” or an “Aww, adorable”. But, let someone with a puppy appear and you may act as if you need a tranquilizer, or jump around squealing and making all kinds of puppy talk. “It’s just that there is really nothing cuter in the world than a sweet-faced baby dog,” you think to yourself, “Babies are cute, but not THIS cute.” Sounds like we’ve got a dog person, here!
- You introduce a new boyfriend or girlfriend to your best friends or family, but you don’t give a lot of weight to their opinion – good or bad. You feel how you feel, and that’s that. However, bring that same person home to meet the dog, and you react differently. The dog doesn’t seem to like this new person, shying away from them or growling. Maybe your normal boisterous and “friends with everyone” dog is suddenly aloof and distant? Perhaps they just don’t seem to like this person. How do you react? If you give serious thought to ending it, or even turn that person down when they next ask for a date, it could be that you hold a dog in higher esteem than most people! NOTE: I cannot call anyone out on this particular behavior because I am of the opinion that dogs are great judges of character, and even if that person is just a bit nervous or high-strung, you may want to give a dog’s reaction to a new person more value than many feel necessary…I know I do.
- You need a job like everyone else in the world, and so you choose a field or career and do what you can to make it work in your favor. If you work in an office setting, you probably want that place to have a good atmosphere. And though there is a break room, a few activities for employee morale, and other perks, there is no pet policy in place. They don’t even have a “bring your dog to work day”! This seems like a real deal-breaker. In fact, you might even consider taking one job over another (even if the latter had a higher salary) if there was a dog-friendly policy…it may be a requirement and not a nice little perk in your opinion. If you would rather work with dogs around you all day than worry about the other aspects of the workplace, you are most definitely a dog person.
- Your partner or sweetheart wants to cuddle, but you don’t want to share the warm sofa, cozy spot in the bed or any part of the covers. Your dog appears and shoves itself up against you, nudges the covers around and takes up a lot of space that had been (just moments before) yours and yours alone. You don’t sigh, get annoyed or fight over it. No, you welcome it, move out of the way or into whatever place the dog seems to want. Hmm…seems like a dog person move!
- Have you ever turned down a social event because of your dog’s routine or schedule? For example, it’s Friday and it has been a bit of a brutal work week. A bunch of colleagues are going to stop for a quick, happy hour cocktail and snack. Now, doesn’t that sound nice? Yet, as soon as they finish inviting you, a picture of your dog(s) pop into your head. “Gee,” you think, “I really should go straight home and take the dog for a walk/feed the dog/play with the dog.” Though you have a neighbor who could do this, or an actual dog walker who wouldn’t mind a call, you opt out of the invite and head home. You aren’t even upset about it! If your social life is built around the dog’s potty and/or meal routine, it is probably due to a few things. 1) You’re a dedicated dog parent and 2) You are just a dog person who prefers the puppo to the happy hour crowd.
- You think of friends as people with shared hobbies and interests. Whether you’ve known them forever or just met them, it is important that they have certain similarities to you. For example, the avid baseball fan is unlikely to become best buddies with the golfing fan, unless they both share an interest in the other sport. The woman who loves Pilates is not likely to find friendship with another woman who refuses to exercise or dislikes physical activity of any kind. Basic compatibility is a big part of friendship. However, if you do an assessment of your friends and find that your “nearest and dearest” are all dog owners, and that the people you shy away from are not dog owners…well, I think you know where I’m headed with this! In fact, if most of your friends come from the dog park, it’s clear which side of the debate you sit.
- There’s a hilarious Tweet that reads “Can you imagine how awkward it would be if your pet went on your phone and found the 1000s of pictures you have of them sleeping.” Now, if you laughed out loud instantly at reading that, chances are you have a phone full of those adorable snapshots. Ask yourself this question, though: Do you find your partner, or other loved ones so photogenic while sleeping. In fact, if the idea of watching someone you love sleep makes you feel a bit creepy, but the idea of laying down just to stare at your sleeping dog makes you all warm and fuzzy inside does not…again, I think we can say you prefer dogs to most people.
- I hesitate to pay for new things for myself if I consider them extras, luxuries or non-essentials. When it comes to the dogs, though, I rarely give it a thought. They need their teeth cleaned? No problem. They’ve destroyed all of the toys? Let’s go shopping! It is a good idea that they have special boots for the extreme winter cold? Where do I find them? Oh, the summertime can be bad on their feet and different booties can help. Great, let me get my credit card! If you don’t bat an eye at investing in clothing, toys, gear, and other items for your dogs (and the dogs that live with other people), but balk at doing the exact same thing for yourself, it’s a clear indicator that you are more of the dog person than the people person.
- There are some folks who never forget a birthday, anniversary or other significant date. They can tell you when they first met their significant other, the exact day they bought their home or graduated, the date of their last dental visit, and so on. Most of us, though, need a calendar to remind us of specific dates, including things like birthdays. Of course, most of us do remember our best friends’ birthdays without much of a reminder. However, if you find that you absolutely need a calendar and a bold red ring around a friend’s birthday but know exactly when your dogs’ birthdays occur without any sort of reminder…yup, you’re a dog person. In fact, in my household there is no need to do reminders because we do little celebrations and there’s some planning involved!
- Happiness, for you, is defined by the happiness of those you love. Yet, you cannot be happy unless you know your dog is too. Again, it means you are a good pet parent, but if a friend’s unhappiness does not make you bummed out or impair your level of happiness, it could be that you just like dogs more than many other people!
- You listen to friends, family and co-workers planning celebrations and events. You might even participate in a lot of these things. However, the best events to plan are those that focus on your dogs. Whether it is finding a comfortable and safe Halloween costume for them or planning a birthday party, holiday celebration or other big event with them, you find this more enjoyable. You, dear reader, are a dog person and dedicated pet parent. This is particularly true if you take a lot of photos and share them to social media or frame them and hang them around your home.
Before you start thinking that you must be a bad person or lousy friend because you are more of a dog person than a people person – don’t. It doesn’t mean that you are inherently bad or unlikeable because your dog (or all dogs) are important to you. As we already discovered from those statistics about millennials, some are raising pets (dogs in particular) as an alternative to a traditional family. It is 100% fine and dandy if your dog(s) are your “babies”.
If you went out of your way to be mean to people or you say that one group (dogs) are more valuable or important than the other (people), THEN your feelings would be a bit out of balance. If you avoid people at all costs, it is not healthy. What I am talking about here (above) is whether or not you are among the large (and growing) group of people who see their pet ownership as a relationship with the same sort of value and significance as the more “classic” model of a human family. Instead of a partner and human kids, it might be you and your dog or you, a partner and a puppo or two.
You still socialize with family and friends, it is simply that the end of the day has you looking forward to heading home and seeing that friendly face and receiving that unconditional love that dogs reserve for us. It is easy to find yourself preferring the company of dogs because it is so easy to be around them, keep them happy and receive happiness from them in return. And the good news is that there is nothing harmful about it!
As Real As It Gets
A 2018 article from Inc. took a scientific look at this issue – liking dogs more than people – and came to the conclusion that “puppy love is as real as it gets”. They want on to say that this sort of love (the love we feel towards the dogs in our homes) is a “powerful part of a healthy lifestyle”. Let’s be honest about this, it can be challenging to find a compatible life partner or to build a successful family. Many of us may end up living alone, and though there is nothing wrong with this, it can take a toll on our physical health. A Swedish study found that people who live alone decrease their risks of death by around 33% simply by adopting a dog.
As that report noted, “Study after study confirms that having a dog doesn’t just keep you alive longer; it also improves your mental health, lowers your rate of heart disease, and increases your overall level of joy.” It is due to the bonding hormone known as oxytocin that is produced by the brain whenever we love up on our pops. It also boosts health because the hormone is known for decreasing blood pressure, eliminating feelings of anxiety or depression, reducing heart rate and even boosting immune function.
Keep in mind that humans enjoy these benefits from the company of dogs in their homes, but also in the workplace. Studies have shown that employees remain more productive, happier and engaged in their work when there is a “dog in the house”.
The experts at Psychology Today even agree that it is okay for humans to prefer dogs over other people because of the benefits that can be enjoyed within the dog-person relationship. They cite the reliability of a dog’s friendship and love (i.e. they don’t divorce you or “break up”), the fact that dogs don’t judge or disparage their humans (they are the world’s best listeners), they have no hidden motives (sure, they might paw you for that little bit of steak left on your plate, but they never plot or “back stab”), and they are great for getting you up off the sofa and outside for a walk or a bit of playtime. They are also very protective and watchful and excellent for offering reassurance.
As the report from Inc. said, “Love is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. And since pups are basically love incarnate, it’s fitting that science is backing up what we’ve always known to be true: there’s nothing quite so comforting as the company of a dog.”
Integrating Your Preferences Into a Whole Life
Here’s the thing, though, you cannot keep yourself entirely out of the world and use your dogs as an excuse for it. My family and friends know that Janice and Leroy are a major part of my life and if they want me around, they’ll have to be ready for the dogs to be by my side sometimes. I don’t always have them with me, but most of my life is designed around activities and events that are dog-friendly.
As an example, in that list of things that might identify you as a dog person, I noted that a lot of dog people have friends who are dog owners. For some, it is an unconscious behavior, but for others (like me) it is 100% conscious. Just as I don’t find it easy to befriend people my age with young families (because we don’t do many things that overlap), I don’t find it easy to make the effort to become friends with people who dislike dogs or who don’t own them. Sure, I have several very close friends who are committed cat people. Yet, they have that same affection for dogs that I do, welcome Janice and Leroy into their homes (after hiding the cat) or accept them when we go out and do things like day hikes or picnics.
My point here is two-fold:
- You should not restrict your life to JUST you and your dogs, but make friends with fellow dog lovers or people who love to be around dogs without owning them
- You should find ways to integrate a fuller life into a life as a dog parent. For example, if you are single and interested in meeting someone, start by creating a bunch of date ideas where dogs are welcome. If you just want to enjoy a richer social life, actively look for events that focus on dogs, there are sites like MeetUp that offer such opportunities, but dog parks, dog daycare facilities and dog training classes or clubs are all great ways to have a fully integrated social life and dog-centric life.
Do you want a few examples of this? Here are several ways that you can start to become more people-friendly while remaining fully committed to your personal preference for the company of dogs:
- Meet a friend at Starbucks – I know, that sounds way too basic, but it really isn’t. Here’s why: The chain encourages customers to bring their dogs and take a seat at the outdoor patio. While this is good only during warmer weather, it is still a nice way to get yourself out into the world without any real challenge or expense. Grab yourself a coffee or drink (and a sweet or nibble) and ask the staff for a “Puppucino”. This is simply a cup that they fill with foamed milk or whipped cream (your pick). Think of it – you are out with a friend or even a date, you have the dogs, you are outside in the fresh air and a laid-back setting, and everyone is sipping (okay, some will slurp and if it is your date you may want to reconsider) and having a great time.
- Do some shopping with a friend or date – Pet stores may not be everyone’s idea of a hot date, but if the goal is to be clear about your preferences, ensure your dogs aren’t stuck at home, and have a good time, shopping may be a good call. Most big box pet stores welcome dogs, and you can get a chance to catch up with a friend, get your errands done, or get to know your date in what is easily one of the most casual settings imaginable. It will work in almost any weather, too. If a pet shop is not on your list of places for dates, consider that most home improvement stores, shops like Bass Pro Shop, Michael’s Crafts, and others welcome your dog. Phone ahead if unsure since nothing ruins fun with friends or a first date like a “NO Dogs” sign.
- Consider dog-friendly eateries, coffee shops or bars – I’ve been talking about coffee shops that allow dogs lately, but there are also some dog-friendly bars and cafes in most areas, too. Some may be patio-only, but some may have indoor seating. Shop around your area and find a spot that you and your dogs feel comfortable. Take them for a few preliminary visits and then consider booking a date with a friend or a romantic date in your preferred spot. It gives you a chance to go out, lets the dogs come along for fun, and lets you see how a potential romantic partner behaves with your puppos.
- The dog park – I know I have mentioned it already, but it is such a great place to begin to merge your dog-centric life with a more expansive social life. You might find yourself developing a real social circle of friends who have one another over for meals or gatherings, or who just make sure they come to the park at the same time each day. Your dogs will make dog friends, which is great for them, too. You can even invite someone who has asked you out (or who you’ve asked out) to visit the dog park with you. If they are distinctly non-dog oriented and say no thanks, it is a sign you may not be compatible. I know it seems like a strange issue to serve as a deal-breaker but be realistic – if you lead a dog-focused life and they are not keen on the puppos or places where dogs gather…well, it could be awkward!
- Anything outdoors – Seriously, beyond the dog park you are likely to find a million outdoor spaces that can allow you to be with the dogs, hang out with friends, or meet a date. As an example, in our neck of the woods we have several “rail trails” where dogs can walk for miles and which is dotted here and there with little parks and spots to stop and hang out with friends. We have hiking trails, beaches and public recreation areas, and there is even a huge old bridge that was once part of a railroad but is now a fantastic place to walk and gather with friends.
So, are you more dog-friendly than you’d like? Maybe you are more people-focused than you initially thought? Either way, it is perfectly fine to be just as you are as long as you are maintaining balance. We’ve looked at the different ways you can tell if you are a dog-centric sort, and we’ve also considered how this is perfectly healthy and fine. We have learned a few tricks for merging your current lifestyle with a more sociable one, and soon I hope you’ve built a social circle full of fellow dog lovers who like to hang out from time to time and gush about the perfection that is the dog!