A discussion of the virtues of owning a cat1 versus a dog1 as a pet is sure to become heated and passionate. After all, it would likely spur deeply held emotions we have for our animal companions. Humans have spent more time with canines than felines. Domestication occurred 20,000–40,000 years ago1 with dogs. Cats didn’t make it into our homes until about 9,500 years ago1.
Our respective relationships are also different. People selectively bred dogs for specific purposes, including companions. Cats were more utilitarian, serving as mousers. So, how did our pets shape our personalities?
Overview of a Dog Person
It’s easy to make general statements regarding dog people, starting with the quintessential images we have of them. Think of the young boy and his canine buddy or the man hunting with his companion at his side. The Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI)1 recognizes 353 different breeds. That can make characterizing dog people challenging. Let’s start at the beginning to describe the average dog person.
The Canine Personality
Understanding canines can help us describe dog people better. These animals typically live in groups, although the social hierarchy varies with the species. That’s an essential fact to keep in mind since it plays a direct role in how humans and dogs interact and, thus, the personalities of pet owners.
The Canine Bond
As we mentioned earlier, dogs and humans have a longer past. Ironically, their relationship began as competitors. After all, canines hunted at the same time we once did while living a Paleolithic hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Some experts even believe that wolf ancestors initiated contact1 between them and people when they scavenged for scraps. Only the docile animals would benefit from this alliance, though.
Canine Influences on Personality
You probably see some human-like traits in canines that would make the bond a good fit on both sides. That may explain why Americans own roughly 35%1 more dogs than cats. Pet owners spend over 40%1 more on their canine friends than feline companions. These data suggest stronger bonds between people and their dogs, along with them being more accepted as family pets. How have these associations affected our personalities?
Scientists have long studied the phenomenon of dog versus cat people. While stereotypes remain at the forefront, research has revealed some interesting facts. A study published in the Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin1 looked at pet ownership and the people who have them using the Sixteen Personality Factors Questionnaire (16PF) test. The results were surprising yet expected.
The researchers found that dog people were more likely to be group-oriented and sociable than cat people. They were more outgoing and pragmatic. Interestingly, differences also exist in dating behavior. Another study1 has found that dog people will spend more on a first date to make a good impression. They were more enthusiastic about maintaining a relationship.
It’s also worth noting that dog owners had the most fulfilling bonds with breeds with personalities that reflected their own. Of course, those traits are also the result of selective breeding, such as keen observation and stealth in a hunting dog. What do these findings say about cat owners?
Overview of a Cat Person
The dynamic of domestication exists with cats, too. Remember that we’ve only had our close feline friends for a fraction of our canine counterparts. While both animals have had tumultuous times in their histories, cats have the added stigma of their association with witches. That fact may have added to the negative associations some have with these animals.
The Feline Personality
Like canines, the feline personality reflects its wild lifestyle. Big and small cats are generally solitary animals. They often hunt at night, so you won’t see them as frequently, which may add to their mystique. They are obligate carnivores1, which means they eat almost exclusively meat. Felines often use stealth for hunting. Some may find their secretive nature unnerving.
Cats don’t leave much time for social interaction with their owners during the day since they can sleep about 16 hours daily1. It’s easy to see why someone who wants an active pet would have an issue with felines, although everyone seems to enjoy a good kitten video or two.
The Feline Bond
Cats served a functional role for humans. They proved to be excellent mousers. That corresponded well since their early domestication was around the time people started developing agriculture. Stores of grain meant rodents and other pests. A cat could easily earn its keep by doing away with the interlopers. And if their spoils kept them well-fed, all the better.
It’s worth noting the role of selective breeding on the human-cat bond. While there are nearly 400 internationally recognized dog breeds, The International Cat Association (TICA) only lists 73 official breeds1. The organization also doesn’t have groups such as Sporting or Toy Breeds like the American Kennel Club (AKC) and United Kennel Club (UKC). That speaks to the cat’s main role as a companion animal.
Feline Influences on Personality
Two caveats are worth mentioning. First, perception plays an essential role in how people view cats as animals and pets. Second, pet owners instinctively gravitate to the breeds or types that reflect their personalities. For example, a Papillon might not be the best choice for a family with small children. Likewise, an apartment dweller would be wise not to bring a Border Collie unless they’re willing to walk a lot.
Our previously cited research1 also considered owners’ personalities when we flipped the script to cats. The results are compelling. Unlike the outgoing dog person, cat people are more reserved and quieter. Instead of being social butterflies, they tend to be solitary and independent. Surprisingly, they are also creative individuals who often toe the line of conformity. Interestingly, they scored higher in reasoning skills than dog people.
Other Factors to Consider
We must address the elephant in the room that looms over dog versus cat people. It’s a fair assumption that an individual will interact with an animal based on what it is and how it communicates with its owner. Therefore, the species and the breed may play pivotal roles in how a person appears to others. Pets can help their owner in many ways, including their well-being1.
It’s also not just about the choice but the circumstances affecting one choice of a pet. Someone may not be able to have a dog in their apartment. They may travel or work a lot, making a cat a better option. A feline will adjust its schedule1 to fit its owner. Likewise, a dog will learn the sound of your car or a garage door opening that signals you’re home, much to its delight!
Male vs. Female Pet Owners
Males and females interact differently with their pets, which isn’t unexpected. Research1 showed that gender is a factor in pet-owner relationships and, thus, the traits of dog and cat people. For example, emotional sensitivity was statistically significant for men but not women when comparing owners. Some characteristics float to the top when analyses are done on each gender separately.
Liking Them Both
The interesting thing about studies considering dog versus cat people is the incidence of people liking both animals. This description fits many individuals. However, a lot of researchers set up their studies to use the polarity of pet owners to better identify the differences. Otherwise, it becomes a confounding factor that will skew the data. The result is the exclusion of individuals without strong biases.
Disliking Them Both
On the opposite end of the spectrum are individuals who don’t like animals, no matter if you’re talking about cats or dogs. Not surprisingly, this trait shows up in their personalities. One study1 found that these people are less likely to embrace the concept of a soul mate. Another factor is control. Many individuals dislike cats because they don’t think they can train them the same way as dogs.
While that’s true to some degree, it also depends on how a person views a pet and whether they feel psychological control1 exists. That term reflects the training and the pet’s response to it. However, the takeaway is that it’s an integral part of the bonding experience and can have a profound role in one’s personality, even if they don’t have a pet.
People believe that dog and cat people are different. Canines are sociable, which is evident in the outgoing nature of dog owners. Likewise, cats are typically solitary hunters, which you can see in many cat owners. The assumption has some weight.
Featured Image Credit: Left: Artem Beliaikin, Pexels | Right: StockSnap, Pixabay