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It started when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media...


5 October 2012

Superficial: What do we find attractive? (Part 1)

Hi Mia,

Such good eye candy in your last post. I don't know who is cuter, the less fat version of Sampson or the young child he's running with. But I did have a little giggle when watching that live news segment. It's supposed to be all about Sampson's physical appearance yet he's hidden beneath a dog coat, and it's nighttime so he's barely visible. Even when they zoom in, you still can't see anything. Am I making fun of the news program? Hmm maybe it got late, and I got tired.
JLo and her bling

But something I will not make fun of are those comments on your post!! Matt Flavel suggesting it's not necessarily that we are stuffing our dogs silly -- obesity in dogs could have something to do with dogs' gut microbiome. Apparently, data will reveal more and this story is to be continued...

So yes, topics about dogs can be layered and complex, but sometimes we can be superficial about dogs -- even talk bling in dogs.

Bling in dogs
I'm sure you can relate. When I'm walking down the street, I'm constantly checking dogs out. Of course, I'm interested in what they are doing, but other times I'm just looking at the way they look. Sometimes my response is, "YES! YOU LOOK GREAT!! I LIKE YOU!" and other times, the sentiment is more like, "pass." 

Apparently Boo embodies "cute"
At the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab, we wanted to know what it is about the way dogs look -- their physical appearances -- that we find attractive. This is what I presented at our first meeting at the Canine Science Forum in Barcelona (awww). 

We wanted to exclude from our study any breed preferences as well as the human desire to mush every puppy we see. To do this, and simply focus on the way dogs look, we used images of adult, mixed-breed dogs in our study. 

We explored: are there certain physical attributes that people always prefer when they look at dogs? And is it possible for these preferences to be subconscious and reported through an implicit preference test? Do all people have the same preferences? Or maybe animal people and non-animal people have different preferences. Are big eyes and a large forehead (the infamous "cute factors") always preferred?

So what did we find? Marc Bekoff summarized our findings for Psychology Today in the blog post, Dogs: Looking At the Way We Look At Our Best Friends

I will say that our findings are somewhat related to what you were talking about the other day regarding fat -- not phat -- dogs. We found that humans don't always prefer what's in dogs’ best interests. To quote from the Bekoff piece, “While 'animal people' seem drawn to dogs with larger eyes, big eyes can be associated with health issues like brachycephalic ocular syndrome and exposure keratitis. And although participants didn’t implicitly prefer larger nostrils, what if that physical attribute would enhance many dogs' ability to breathe?”

What humans deem aesthetically pleasing in dogs might not always be in dogs' best interests. Frown face...

Night night,



Bekoff, M. Dogs: Looking At the Way We Look At Our Best Friends. Psychology Today. August 21, 2012

Hecht, J. Where should dogs put their tongues? Dog Spies. September 27, 2011

Hecht, J. & Horowitz, A. 2012. Physical prompts to anthropomorphism of the domestic dog (Canis familiaris) Oral presentation at the Third Canine Science Forum, Barcelona, Spain.

© Julie Hecht 2012
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