Are you a cat person or a dog person?
This is a question you’ve probably been asked many time in your life, often by men wearing Barbour jackets in their dating app pictures who desperately want you to say dog so they can impress you with their new puppy.
There are tons of tropes in terms of our affinity to pets, but the great divide appears to be between cats (seen as aloof and uncaring) and dogs (seen as blindly loyal and enthusiastic).
There’s the ‘crazy cat lady’ stereotype, or the ‘lonely spinster who lives with exactly 13 cats and exactly no love’. For some reason cats seem to be associated with women and shone in a negative light.
Cat people, however, would likely tell you that the reason they love their feline friends is that they’re affectionate only when they want to be, and aren’t as needy or naive as dogs.
Dog people, too, are fiercely proud of being just that. Cats are mean, they say. Cats only come around when they want food, they argue.
These are all anecdotal stories, of course. But there’s apparently a science in why some people prefer cats or dogs, as well as why they use that as a marker with which to identify themselves.
Research typically shows that those who define themselves by loving cats or by loving dogs have different personality traits.
An article published in the journal Anthrozoos assessed the characteristics or around 4,500 people.
As part of the study, they concluded: ‘Results suggest that dog people are higher on Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness, but lower on Neuroticism and Openness than are cat people.’
A separate study in the same journal hinted that the reasoning behind dog people wanting dogs in the first place is partly due to their sociable and somewhat dominant nature.
Researchers concluded ‘that individuals who are high on these traits tend to prefer submissive pets such as dogs, whose temperament complements their preference for dominance.’
While dog people are able to establish dominance over their pets, cat owners are having a lot less of a say in their shared lives. Nearly half of house cats have physically attacked their owners, and as solitary animals they don’t take kindly to being told what to do.
It would appear that more submissive cat owners are happy to be around a pet who plays by their own rules, while dog owners prefer to make – and enforce – the rules themselves.
There are also of course going to be practical reasons why people prefer cats or dogs. Those who prefer being outdoors are going to be more suited for dog walks, while people who are home slightly less (and have a cat flap) will be happy to see their cat when they see them.
But in terms of why we label ourselves so strongly towards one or the other, this study shows that people who had no preference either way and loved both cats and dogs were the most empathetic overall.
So maybe we should all just put our claws away.
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