The relationship between people and pets – why is there love involved?
Have you ever walked by the Prešeren Square and noticed the amount of people that walk their pets there? And most important, why do they even do that? Statistics show that in Slovenia alone, in the year of 2016, 30% of the households owned at least one dog and 33% owned at least one cat. This means that in 2016 63% of the Slovenian households had at leats one pet, but why does that happen? Why do people even love their pets?
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According to the animal friendly countries index (2011), Slovenia is considered the 8th animal-friendly country in the world. Besides, just by searching about the matter, you can find a substantial amount of websites talking about how Slovenia is one of the most pet friendly places, as well as recommending where you can take your pet for a walk and even stores/cafes just for them (like the Cat cafe).
It’s so easy to make an animal happy, so much easier than it seems to be to make other people happy. Our pets love us unconditionally and in a way that is less susceptible to being lost than the love of other human beings. Pets are so important for us that we even have a huge set of laws and rights made for our furry little friends.
But we return to the same initial question: Why do people have pets?
A lot of authors already covered this matter, and the answers differ. Ian Robinson, on his book The Waltham book of human-animal interaction: Benefits and responsibilities of pet ownership, states that pet lovers are more able to be so if they are near pets as children. This happens because kids feel like their pet will accept and love them unconditionally, even if they misbehave or do bad at school, they see the pet as a “source of non-judgmental affection”. The author also affirms that even though pets can’t replace human instrumental support – such as advice – they will show and make the person feel emotional support.
DO WE LOOK LIKE OUR PET?
Moreover, a lot of people even look alike with their pets in terms of image or even personality. A study says that people are usual drawn to animals that look like them, for example, a girl with longer hair would find flop-eared-dogs, like spaniels and beagles, to be more friendly, pretty and intelligent than dogs with pointy ears. On the other hand, women with short hair would say the opposite. This might all sound like a coincidence, but the truth is that there are numerous photogaleries that support this theory. Humans can also feel more drawn to certain dogs due to their facial expressions. That’s right, you read it well! Dogs actually have facial expressions for trying to communicate with humans. You can read more on that behalf here.
DOG PERSON VS CAT PERSON: truth or stereotype?
Another theory that comes up when we talk about pets is the “are you a dog person or cat person” question. Some people base a significant portion of their identity around their affinity for either cats or dogs, describing themselves as a “cat person” or a “dog person”. This builds on the perceived dichotomy between cats and dogs as pets in the society. The two terms refer to people’s self-identification, regardless of what pets they actually own, if any. Are there differences between the people who prefer one animal to another, or is it just a matter of stereotype? Various studies were developed concerning this matter, and they state that dog people are more extroverted and less neurotic than cat people.
Even though there are lots of studies concerning the referred subjects, we decided to contact a social psychologist who would give as a more professional opinion about the subject.
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Metka Kuhar, a social psychologist from the faculty of social sciences brings out a very valid point:
“the relationship between people and their pets is less complicated… pets show loyalty and that’s important specially for people who didn’t feel this kind of relationship in their life.” Metka Kuhar, Social psychologist.
Zygmunt Bauman talks about this in his book “Liquid Love” saying that pet owners actually need their pets for their survival. The social psychologist also justifies this love relationship through the attachment theory, saying that this relationship is really simple and happens almost in a natural way.
“The animal is very happy to see you and invites you into more relaxed states and more trusting states… to have someone who is so happy to see you, spend time with you, that’s really good”. Metka Kuhar, Social psychologist.
Regarding the similarities between people and their pets, professor Metka talks about the psychology similarity thesis that says “people are attracted by the similar”, and this is one of the possible explanations for the similarities that we can see. Besides, some people see their pet as an extension of themselves and objectify and style them to look like a version of themselves.
When asked about the topic regarding cat people and dog people, the social psychologist says that it’s a mistake to generalize.
“Some cats can have a dog’s personality, there are approximately 15 types of cats like that and dogs have very different personalities… we need to look into more concrete breeds or concrete relationships”. Metka Kuhar, Social psychologist.
Psychologists’ Metka Kuhar help was essential, but we still think that something’s missing. So, we decided to go to Prešeren Square and talk with the pet owners themselves and see what they had to say.
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The answers differ when we talk about the reason for loving our pets, we just know that we do and that’s it. Even if we read books or scientific articles about the matter, when we asked the pet owners themselves we found interesting and simple answers as “I don’t know, I just like them” or “because he is a person”. The authors opinions differ about the topics that we searched about, but looking into multiple options can help us find what suits ourselves better. Until then, we will just keep loving our pets unconditionally.
Written by: Derya Tez, Inês Alberto and Joana Alves
Amiot, C. E., & Bastian, B. (2015). Toward a psychology of human–animal relations. Psychological Bulletin, 141(1), 6.
Archer, J. (1997). Why do people love their pets?. Evolution and Human behavior, 18(4), 237-259.
Bauman, Z. (2013). Liquid love: On the frailty of human bonds. John Wiley & Sons.
Coren, “Do People Look Like Their Dogs?” (Anthrozoös, 1999)
Gosling, S. D., Sandy, C. J., & Potter, J. (2010). Personalities of self-identified “dog people” and “cat people”. Anthrozoös, 23(3), 213-222.
Robinson, I. (Ed.). (2013). The Waltham book of human-animal interaction: Benefits and responsibilities of pet ownership. Elsevier.
Roy, M. M., & Nicholas, J. C. (2004). Do dogs resemble their owners?. Psychological Science, 15(5), 361-363.