Set your heart on the right pooch! | Daily News

Set your heart on the right pooch!

 Picking the right dog is as difficult as dating humans because the pooch we think we want is different to the pet we fall in love with, scientists say

The ways of the heart are often a mystery, with many spurned lovers struggling to understand why they fell in love with a particular ex. Scientists have now found the unpredictability as to who the heart wants is not restricted to human-human interactions, but also includes dogs.

A study of how animals in a shelter were adopted found people often have their heart set on a certain type of dog before they arrive, and change their mind when confronted with a particular puppy.

They found some factors are more important than others, with age and playfulness highly sought after traits and colour and purebred status less influential.

Physical appearance and attractiveness is also a key determining factor when choosing both pets and spouses, it revealed.

‘As multiple psychologists have shown in speed-dating experiments, physical attractiveness is very important,’ said Samantha Cohen, a researcher at Indiana University.

‘Most people think they’ve got a handsome or good-looking dog.’

The researchers sorted dogs based upon 13 traits: age, sex, colour, size, purebred status, previous training, nervousness, protectiveness, intelligence, excitability, energy level, playfulness and friendliness.

They then also assessed the supposed preferences of 1,229 people who visited dogs at an animal shelter - a total of 145 were later adopted.

They say this understanding could one day help to match owners with a dog in advance and make adoption easier and more efficient.

Dr Cohen added: ‘It was my responsibility to match dogs to people based on their preferences, but I often noticed that visitors would ultimately adopt some other dog than my original suggestion.

‘This study provides a reason: Only some desired traits tend to be fulfilled above chance, which means they may have a larger impact on dog selection.’

The laboratory that conducted the research normally specialises in unpicking human laws of attraction and how people choose their spouses and they drew the clear similarities between humans and dogs.

The researchers say to improve adoptions, animal shelters should be aware that people tend to rely on certain traits more strongly when choosing a dog.

Dr Cohen also suggested shelters consider interventions, such as temporary placement in a calmer environment, to help stressed or under-socialised dogs. The research was published in the journal Behavior Research Methods.

Focusing on ‘the one’

Adopters often came to the shelter with a vision of the perfect pet and some risk missing a good match due to overemphasis on specific physical and personality traits.

For example, an adopter who wants an Irish wolfhound because they’re large, loyal and light shedders might fail to consider a non-purebred with the same qualities.

Mismatched perceptions

Surprisingly, adopters and shelters often used different traits to describe the same dog.

These included subjective traits, such as obedience and playfulness, as well as seemingly objective traits, such as colour.

Missed signals

People who have never had a dog may not grasp the implications of certain behaviours. For example, a dog seen as ‘playful’ at the shelter may come across as ‘destructive’ in a small home.

Performance anxiety

Shelters are high-stress environments for dogs, whose personalities may shift when they’re more relaxed at home. Picking a dog based upon personality at the shelter is akin to choosing a date based on how well they perform while public speaking.

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