Saturday, February 20, 2010
By Linda Cole
We are attracted to certain types of pets just as we are to specific types of people. All animals are worthy of our compassion, and choosing either a dog or cat to share our home with is a reflection on our personality.
There's something mystical about a cat. They cuddle with us on their terms. Most will come when called, but only if they think there's something in it for them. I'm pretty sure mine enjoy seeing their frantic owner comb every known hiding spot in the house looking for them as they watch from a newly discovered spot. I love a cat's independence and how the intensity in her body grows as she watches a squirrel or bird perch on a tree branch in front of the window separating them.
Dog people and cat people do have good reasons why they prefer one over the other. But as much as I love cats, dogs also have a special place in my heart. I love how a dog greets you no matter how long you've been gone. Cats miss us too, but they are often too proud to let us know. A dog wants to be with us all the time and they always have a smile in their eyes. I don't think of myself as a dog or cat person, just an animal person.
According to a study that was done in 2008 by the American Veterinary Medical Association, “cat people” are more likely to be single with multiple cats; “dog people” are typically married with kids and have just one dog in the home. But with so many variables in the equation, this generalization seems rather pointless.
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin recently conducted an online survey to find out if there really is a difference between cat people and dog people. Their study is called the Gosling-Potter Internet Personality Project, and they asked participants questions to measure five different personality traits. Around 4,500 people answered questions that measured openness, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness and extraversion (this spelling is correct and is the same as extrovert). The researchers used these five personality traits in earlier studies to measure responses, and believe most people fall into one of the categories.
What they found was that people who consider themselves to be dog people tend to be more outgoing and social. Cat people, according to their study, are more neurotic yet open. The openness in this case means creative, philosophical, curious, imaginative, or more in touch with their own feelings.
The University of Texas at Austin study has not been published yet, so I'll reserve judgment until it's available to the public to read. The small bit of general information that has already been released has created controversy and defensive reactions from pet owners. Neurotic, after all, is a pretty strong word to label cat people with. The information that's been released is more of a generalization of the five personality types. The study was only for differences between dog people and cat people based on how they viewed themselves. Some considered themselves to be dog people but they own cats, or cat people with dogs. Some of the respondents didn't even own a pet.
What's useful about the Texas study is when matching up a therapy animal with a patient, understanding a person's preference can make a difference by using an animal the person relates to best. But do we really want to stereotype someone based on their choice in pets? And where do households with both dogs and cats fit into the study?
The study also found that some people may prefer dogs, but have cats because that's the pet that fits best into their lifestyle or work schedule at the moment. Cat people may have a certain breed of dog because that's the pet that works best for someone in the home with allergies.
Studies are useful in providing an insight into how people see themselves. However, I'm not convinced that placing a label on a person from a generalized statement is convincing as far as determining a difference between dog people and cat people. The way I see it, we are pet parents who are enriched with the love we give and receive from our pets. A preference does play a role in our choice, but regardless of whether we have cats or dogs, labels mean nothing to them and they accept us for who we are. And so should we.
Read more articles by Linda Cole