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The Roles of Pet Dogs and Cats in Human Courtship and Dating

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What role do companion animals play in the dating lives of single adults? As dogs and cats are increasingly viewed as family members, a person's pets may wield significant influence in partner choice. Here, we provide descriptive quantitative data on the role pets play in mate appraisal and mate selection; we also test two hypotheses regarding the role of pets in single Americans’ dating lives. We hypothesized that single women will place more value on a how a potential mate interacts with their pet, than will single men. We also hypothesized that dogs will serve more prominent roles as “social tools” in the dating arena than cats, given that dogs are more social and dogs require more constant care. Thus, dogs may be a better measure of a potential mate's caregiving capacity. Data were obtained from a 2014 survey sent to a random selection of people in the US registered on the online dating site Match.com who had indicated pet information in their dating profiles. A sample of 1,210 individuals responded, 61% of whom were women. Dogs and cats were the most common pets for both sexes. In support of our first hypothesis, on eight of 11 dependent variables (such as whether one has ever been attracted to someone because of a pet), women were more discriminating of a potential partner's associations with pets than were men. Consistent with our second hypothesis, dogs served more commonly as social barometers in the dating arena than cats did, with respect to nine of 11 dependent variables (such as whether one would date someone because of a pet). We discuss the findings with respect to changing family profiles, including lower fertility and expanded roles of companion animals as extended kin. We conclude with the limitations of this study and suggestions for future research.
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Anthrozoös
A multidisciplinary journal of the interactions of people and animals
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The Roles of Pet Dogs and Cats in Human
Courtship and Dating
Peter B. Gray, Shelly L. Volsche, Justin R. Garcia & Helen E. Fisher
To cite this article: Peter B. Gray, Shelly L. Volsche, Justin R. Garcia & Helen E. Fisher (2015) The
Roles of Pet Dogs and Cats in Human Courtship and Dating, Anthrozoös, 28:4, 673-683
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08927936.2015.1064216
Published online: 09 Dec 2015.
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The Roles of Pet Dogs and
Cats in Human Courtship and
Dating
Peter B. Gray*†, Shelly L. Volsche*, Justin R. Garcia†‡
and Helen E. Fisher†§
*Department of Anthropology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas,
Nevada, USA
The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction,
Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA
Department of Gender Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington,
Indiana, USA
§Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA
ABSTRACT What role do companion animals play in the dating lives of single
adults? As dogs and cats are increasingly viewed as family members, a person’s
pets may wield significant influence in partner choice. Here, we provide
descriptive quantitative data on the role pets play in mate appraisal and mate
selection; we also test two hypotheses regarding the role of pets in single Amer-
icans’ dating lives. We hypothesized that single women will place more value on
a how a potential mate interacts with their pet, than will single men. We also
hypothesized that dogs will serve more prominent roles as “social tools” in the
dating arena than cats, given that dogs are more social and dogs require more
constant care. Thus, dogs may be a better measure of a potential mate’s care-
giving capacity. Data were obtained from a 2014 survey sent to a random
selection of people in the US registered on the online dating site Match.com
who had indicated pet information in their dating profiles. A sample of 1,210
individuals responded, 61% of whom were women. Dogs and cats were the
most common pets for both sexes. In support of our first hypothesis, on eight
of 11 dependent variables (such as whether one has ever been attracted to
someone because of a pet), women were more discriminating of a potential
partner’s associations with pets than were men. Consistent with our second
hypothesis, dogs served more commonly as social barometers in the dating
arena than cats did, with respect to nine of 11 dependent variables (such as
whether one would date someone because of a pet). We discuss the findings
with respect to changing family profiles, including lower fertility and expanded
roles of companion animals as extended kin. We conclude with the limitations
of this study and suggestions for future research.
Keywords: cats, companion animals, dating, dogs, pets, singles
673 Anthrozoös DOI: 10.1080/08927936.2015.1064216
ANTHROZOÖS VOLUME 28, ISSUE 4 REPRINTS AVAILABLE PHOTOCOPYING © ISAZ 2015
PP. 673–683 DIRECTLY FROM PERMITTED PRINTED IN THE UK
THE PUBLISHERS BY LICENSE ONLY
Address for correspondence:
Peter B. Gray, Ph.D.,
Department of Anthropology,
University of Nevada,
Las Vegas,
4505 S. Maryland Parkway,
Las Vegas, NV 81954-5003,
USA.
E-mail: peter.gray@unlv.edu.
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A variety of factors guide the dating choices of single adults. In our research, we con-
sidered the roles played by pet dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) and pet cats (Felis catus)
in the dating lives of singles, using a large sample of American singles recruited from
a popular online dating site. The focus on dating and pets in the current research is timely and
both theoretically and empirically relevant for reasons we expand on here.
Domesticated dogs and cats that are kept as household pets are increasingly viewed as
extended kin (Herzog 2010; Serpell and Paul 2011). Research among American (Blouin 2013)
and Israeli (Shir-Vertesh 2012) adults, for example, shows that a growing fraction of pet owners
describe their dog or cat as a “family member.” Moreover, these extended family relationships
manifest in a variety of ways. The American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates that
Americans spent about $58 billion USD on their pets in 2014, with much of that devoted to
dog and cat expenses. As the APPA also notes, more households in the US keep dogs and
cats than any other type of companion animal, indicating the importance of these animals in
people’s lives. In terms of material investment, people are buying more expensive pet foods
and utilizing other pet-related services, such as doggy day care and pet insurance, which also
speaks to the value of these nonhuman family members. Pet ownership may also have direct
effects on human biology. Epidemiological and physiological research shows that pet- keeping
is associated with some positive health benefits among owners (reviewed in Wells, 2007).
Further, several studies have shown that among adults interactions with a pet dog can result
in increases in oxytocin and changes in other hormone levels (e.g., Odendaal and Meintjes
2003; Miller et al. 2009).
Some research addresses the potential roles of pets, particularly dogs, in singles’ courtship
and dating lives. Several studies indicate that dogs can facilitate social interactions, though the
effects are contingent upon factors such as the breed of dog and the sex of the person
(McNicholas and Collis 2000). For example, Wells (2004) found that a single woman standing
in public with a puppy or adult Golden Retriever elicited more approaches and conversations
than did the same woman standing with an adult Rottweiler, stuffed teddy bear, or potted
plant; other women and individuals who were alone (rather than in a dyad) were also more likely
to approach her. Further, in another study a man with a dog was more likely to obtain an
unfamiliar woman’s phone number during a meeting in a public space than the same man
without a dog (Gueguen and Ciccotti 2008). In yet another study, women evaluated men
depicted in vignettes (short stories) as more attractive if these men were described as dog
owners (Tifferet et al. 2013). Anecdotal data also suggest that an adult’s perception of pet
dogs and cats (e.g., particularly whether they are allergic to these creatures or do not like to
take care of animals) may also play a role in mate choice and partnership formation.
While pet dogs and cats play expanding roles in family and dating life, these dynamics can
be situated within broader observations of animal domestication, cross-cultural human– animal
interactions, and data on sex differences in human social behavior. Dogs were the first species
known to be domesticated, between approximately 30,000 and 15,000 years ago (Zeder et
al. 2006; Clutton-Brock 2012). How humans interact with dogs varies cross-culturally and
historically, with people of many societies looking upon them as unclean and serving in pro-
tection and hunting, rather than as companions (Shipman 2010; Gray and Young 2011; Hurn
2012). In the US, views of pet dogs vary (Coppinger and Coppinger 2001; Bradshaw 2011);
for example, decreased physical punishment of dogs, indoor sleeping arrangements for dogs,
and targeted foods for dogs have gained prominence among many owners during recent
decades.
The Roles of Pet Dogs and Cats in Human Courtship and Dating
674 Anthrozoös
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Evidence suggests cats were domesticated thousands of years ago, likely by increasingly
consuming rodents around human settlements (Clutton-Brock 2012; Bradshaw 2013). Cats,
too, are viewed variably in cross-cultural and historic perspective, with people of many societies
most favorably viewing them for their vermin-removal talents rather than as family companions
(Gray and Young 2011). Domesticated cats are generally recognized as being less social than
domesticated dogs, and as requiring less regular maintenance than dogs (e.g., fewer human–
pet formal exercise routines). Moreover, cats generally provide a different socio-emotional
relationship with their owners than do dogs (see Serpell 1996; Zasloff 1996; Bradshaw 2013).
Cat social cognition and behavior, such as attentiveness to human visual cues, appears to
have been shaped less by co-evolutionary pressures with humans than dog social cognition
and behavior (Miklosi et al. 2005; Bradshaw 2013).
A large theoretical and empirical literature addresses (heterosexual) sex differences in
human social behavior, including mate preference and mate choice, family formation strate-
gies, and parental care (Cartwright 2008; Dixson 2009; Geary 2010). Some of the insights
from this literature helped inform the current study’s focus on the role of pet dogs and cats in
singles’ dating lives. Females, including humans, have both lower potential and actual repro-
ductive rates than males (see Trivers 1972; Clutton-Brock and Parker 1992; Kokko and
Jennions 2008; Gray 2013). Put in terms of evolutionary and life history theory, females allocate
a higher proportion of their reproductive effort to parenting while males expend more energy
on mating (Fisher 1992; Gray and Anderson 2010; Low 2015). These contrasts are lessened
in humans compared with most other mammals, however, because humans typically form
long-term socio-sexual partnerships which include paternal care (Gray and Garcia 2013).
Regardless, women tend to be more discerning in their mate preferences than men; women
expend considerable energy evaluating a male partner’s capacity to provide resources to her
and her offspring, including his emotional commitment and capacity to contribute valued
resources (Buss 1989; Schmitt 2005; Gray and Garcia 2013). Men tend to place higher value
on cues of female fecundity and fertility, instead, with greater concern over cues indicative of
sexual access relative to a woman’s capacity to contribute resources (Buss 1989; Schmitt
2005; Gray and Garcia 2013). Across human societies, mothers, on average, provide more
direct childcare than do fathers, and women exhibit greater ability to read facial and bodily
emotional states of others (Hrdy 2009; Gray and Anderson 2010); these patterns suggest
sex-specific ways in which women and men parent. In a context wherein people consider
pets extended kin, one might expect these same patterns to reflect how they “parent” their
dogs and cats, and the characteristics they are likely to value in potential mates who might
become involved in these same animals’ lives.
In our study we aimed to a) obtain descriptive data on the roles that pet dogs and cats play
in single Americans’ dating lives; and b) test two hypotheses concerning potential patterning
in these dating and pet dynamics. We tested the hypothesis that women will show more dis-
cerning dating preferences regarding a potential partner’s and one’s own pet dogs and cats.
We predicted that women will exhibit more sensitivity to a potential partner’s treatment and
keeping of pet dogs and cats with the thought that they place greater concern on the well-
being of their existing pets, as well as the potential integration of a partner’s pets into their
family lives. We also tested the hypothesis that the roles of pet dogs and cats will differ in sin-
gles’ dating lives. More specifically, we anticipated that more singles will express concerns
over one’s own or a potential partner’s pet dog(s) than pet cat(s), given perceptions that cats
are less social, require less attention, and are less diagnostic of a potential mate’s caregiving
Gray et al.
675 Anthrozoös
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The Roles of Pet Dogs and Cats in Human Courtship and Dating
676 Anthrozoös
capacities than are dogs. We additionally tested whether or not roles of pet dogs and cats vary
with the age of the owner. Older singles are less likely to live with human children, potentially
giving more weight to the roles of pet dogs and cats; however, the more recent emergence of
indulging and investing in dogs and cats as family members means that younger singles may
be even more likely to hold such views.
Methods
As part of a collaboration with the pet supply store PetSmart, in spring 2014 a link to a voluntary
online survey was sent to approximately 2,300 subscribers to the online dating site Match.com.
These subscribers had identified as single, living in the US, were at least 20 years of age, and
indicated in their online dating profile that they owned a pet(s). One thousand two hundred and
ten (n= 1,210) singles responded. The survey consisted of 21 questions, administered through
the web-based survey tool Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com). All data were obtained
from voluntary responses to the survey and were not drawn from participants’ profiles. Profile
information was only used for inclusion criteria to identify potential participants who were sent the
survey link. The current study made use of this existing dataset.
Questionnaire items covered basic pet-keeping and demographic items. These included:
What is your age? (response options: “20 something”; “30 something”; “40 something”; and
“50+”); “What is your gender?” (response options: “Male” and “Female”); “Do you own a dog?”
(response options: “Yes” or “No”); “Do you own a cat?” (response options: “Yes” or “No”); and
“What pet(s) do you own? Select all that apply” (response options: “Dog,” “Cat,” “Bird,”
“Rabbit/Hamster/Guinea pig,” “Reptiles/fish,” “Exotic animals,” and “Other”). Additional ques-
tions covered aspects of pets and dating, with specific items and responses shown in Table 1.
For example, one question asked, “Would you bring your pet to a first date?” (response options:
“Yes,” “No,” or “I don’t know”). Data analyses relied on all questions that were sex-general rather
than sex-specific, resulting in the exclusion of two questions. The descriptive data for those two
excluded items showed men’s replies to the item “If your date’s pet could fit in her handbag, that
is a:” (a turn-on [n= 12], a turn-off [n= 134], or neither [n= 330]); and women’s replies to the
question “What is the hottest pet a guy could own?” (dog [n= 500], cat [n= 80], bird [n= 2],
reptiles/fish [n= 3], rabbit/hamster/guinea pig [n= 0], or exotic animals [n= 12]).
Results
Over half (60.6%) of the 1,210 respondents were women (n= 733). The respondents were of
varied age groups: 149 (12.3%) were in their 20s; 189 (15.6%) were in their 30s; 288 (23.8%)
were in their 40s; and 584 (48.3%) were aged 50 years or older. A statistically significantly
higher percentage of women had pet cats (n= 332, 45.6%) than did men (n= 181, 38.3%)
(2= 6.162, df = 1, p= 0.013). A slightly higher percentage of men had pet dogs (n= 348,
73.3%) than did women (n= 513, 70.4%), but this difference was not significant. Overall, pet
dogs (n= 870, 71.9%) and cats (n= 513, 42.4%) were the most commonly kept pets. Other
pets owned were reptiles/fish (n= 100, 8.3%), “Other” (n= 63, 5.2%), bird (n= 52, 4.3%),
rabbit/hamster/guinea pig (n= 33, 2.7%), and exotic animals (n= 11, 0.9%).
Table 1 presents responses to pet and dating questions with respect to age group and men
and women. Single women and men did not differ in their likelihood of bringing a pet on a first
date or on the locations where they would bring a pet to a first date. Notably, however, a small
percentage (less than 10%) of both women and men said they would bring a pet to a first
date. Using chi-square tests with sex (male/female) as the predictor variable and pet/dating
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Gray et al.
677 Anthrozoös
Table 1. Sex and age-group differences in the role of pets in dating responses.
Age Group 20s 30s 40s 50+ Overall
Question/Item Sex (F=Female; M=Male) F M F M F M F M F M
Would you bring your pet to a first date?
Yes 10 5 9 6 8 7 17 18 44 36
No 65 47 93 62 145 92 309 181 612 382
I don’t know 15 7 10 9 18 17 32 26 75 59
If you were bringing your pet(s) on a date, where would you go?
Dog park 9 5 13 4 6 10 8 3 36 22
Sporting event 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Pet-friendly restaurant 6 1 0 2 4 3 5 7 15 13
Walking trail 10 4 5 7 12 7 29 24 56 42
Other 0 1 1 2 4 4 8 10 13 17
Have you ever been more attracted to someone because they had a pet? *** ●●
Yes 52 16 42 26 54 32 107 51 255 125
No 38 43 69 51 118 83 247 172 472 349
Have you ever used a pet to attract a potential date? *** ●●●
Yes 1216 1024 1227 1236 46103
No 77 43 101 53 160 88 343 189 681 373
Do you think a relationship could work with a “cat person”? ●●●
Yes 29 30 43 41 86 59 155 122 313 252
No 32 10 39 15 39 22 89 43 199 90
Do you think a relationship could work with a “dog person”?
Yes 33 22 41 23 71 50 179 82 342 177
No 31 20 11 44 106
continued…
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The Roles of Pet Dogs and Cats in Human Courtship and Dating
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Table 1. Sex and age-group differences in the role of pets in dating responses …continued
Age Group 20s 30s 40s 50+ Overall
Question/Item Sex (F=Female; M=Male) F M F M F M F M F M
Would you judge your date based on how your pet(s) reacted to them? *** ●●●
Yes 44 22 66 21 75 41 161 52 346 136
No 46 37 46 56 95 75 192 173 379 341
Would you judge your date based on how they reacted to your pet(s)? ●●●
Yes 76 38 92 52 131 70 254 117 553 277
No 14 21 19 24 41 45 97 98 171 188
Would you date someone who didn’t like pets? ●●●
Yes 25 27 32 35 45 47 89 108 191 217
No 65 32 80 41 124 66 267 113 536 252
Have you ever used your pet as an excuse to leave a bad date early?
Yes 15 6 16 11 19 14 39 18 89 49
No 75 52 96 66 152 101 312 205 635 424
Finding out your date adopted a pet makes them_____.
More attractive 70 37 75 47 109 62 221 92 475 238
Less attractive 1 0 0 2 0 1 2 4 3 7
None of the above 20 23 37 32 64 54 137 128 258 237
Including photos of a pet in your online dating profile is a: ** ●
Turn-on 41 14 34 17 46 21 74 33 195 85
Turn-off 3 2 7 4 8 19 24 27 42 52
Neither 46 43 71 55 116 75 257 164 490 337
Do you think your date’s choice in pets says a lot about their personality? * ●●
Yes 75 31 76 50 107 71 222 121 480 273
No 15 28 35 27 65 44 133 101 248 200
Age-group differences: *p< 0.05, **p< 0.01, ***p< 0.001; Sex differences: ●p< 0.05, ●●p< 0.01, ●●●p< 0.001.
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measures as outcome variables, results revealed partial support for the first hypothesis.
Women reported being more likely to have been attracted to someone because he had a pet
(2= 10.030, df = 1, p= 0.002). Conversely, men reported being more likely to have used a
pet to obtain a date (2= 63.496, df = 1, p= 0.002). Relatively few men or women reported
that a relationship could not work with a “dog person,” with no sex difference in that sentiment.
However, a higher fraction of women than men felt that a relationship could not work with a
“cat person” (2= 13.628, df = 1, p< 0.005). Compared with men, women were more likely
to report judging a date based on how her pet(s) reacted to a date (2= 43.341, df = 1,
p< 0.005), and they were also more likely to report judging a date based on how the date
reacted to her pet(s) (2= 37.302, df = 1, p< 0.005). Women were less likely to date some-
one who didn’t like pets (2= 49.821, df = 1, p< 0.005), and they more commonly reported
including photos of a pet in an online dating profile as a turn-on (2= 4.140, df = 1, p= 0.042).
There were no sex differences in using a pet as an excuse to leave a date early; nor were there
sex differences in how attracted an individual was to a potential mate after finding out that
one’s date had a pet. But women were more likely to agree with the view that a date’s choice
in pets says a lot about that individual’s personality (2= 7.589, df = 1, p= 0.006).
To test the second hypothesis (that pet dog and cat owners would describe differences in
their dating lives), chi-square tests were conducted for dating outcomes, with the predictor
variable coded as dog owners, cat owners, or both dog and cat owners. Results revealed
differences in one’s dating life depending on whether they owned a dog or a cat, thus partially
supporting the second hypothesis. Pet owners expressed differences in having been attracted
to someone because of a pet (2= 8.847, df = 2, p= 0.012), with cat owners less likely to
express this sentiment than dog owners. Pet owners reported differences in having used their
pet(s) to attract potential dates (2= 8.954, df = 2, p= 0.011), with cat owners once again less
likely to report this than other pet owners. Pet owners expressed differences in the likelihood
of having a relationship with a “cat person” (2= 123.389, df = 2, p< 0.001), with dog own-
ers being less likely to develop a partnership with a “cat person.” There were also differences
in reported likelihood of pursuing a relationship with a “dog person” (2= 9.075, df = 2,
p= 0.011), with this less likely among dog owners. Pet owners professed differences in judg-
ing their dates depending on how their pets reacted to their dates (2= 25.505, df = 2,
p< 0.0005), with cat owners less likely to judge a potential romantic partner by the way their
pet responded to the individual. Similarly, pet owners showed differences in judging a date
based on the date’s reaction to one’s pet (2= 25.571, df = 2, p< 0.0005), with cat owners
also less likely to report judging a date with regard to how the date responded to their pet. Pet
owners showed differences in the likelihood of using a pet as an excuse to leave a bad date
early (2= 9.464, df = 2, p= 0.009), with cat owners less likely to use their pet as an excuse
to leave a bad date. Pet owners varied in their views of including photos of pets in an online
profile (2= 12.279, df = 2, p= 0.002), with cat owners the less likely to judge someone by
whether he/she included a photo of a pet. Pet owners expressed differences in whether a
date’s pet says a lot about the date’s personality (2= 23.118, df = 2, p< 0.0005), with cat
owners less likely to believe that one’s pet says a lot about the owner’s personality.
Table 1 also presents responses to pet and dating questions with respect to the four age
groups. Some outcomes differed across age groups. Whether singles reported ever being
attracted to someone because they had a pet differed by age group (2= 20.471, df = 3,
p< 0.005), with pet owners in their 20s being most likely to express experiencing an attrac-
tion to other pet owners. Whether a single reported ever using a pet to attract a potential date
Gray et al.
679 Anthrozoös
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differed by age group (2= 20.842, df = 3, p< 0.005), with those singles 50 years and older
less likely to report using a pet as “bait.” Singles reported age-related differences in judging a
date by how the date reacted to their pet(s) (2= 12.642, df = 3, p= 0.005), with young singles
the most likely to judge a date by his/her reaction to their pet. Including photos of a pet in
one’s online dating profile was viewed differently by individuals in different age groups
(2= 14.620, df = 3, p= 0.002), with younger singles being most likely to regard the inclusion
of a pet photo as a turn on. Moreover, a relatively higher percentage of singles agreed with the
idea that pets say a lot about personality, with age-group differences in this sentiment also
expressed (2= 8.703, df = 3, p= 0.034).
Discussion
As pet dogs and cats are increasingly viewed as family members, we sought to address how
they are incorporated into single adults’ dating lives. Here, we reported quantitative descriptive
data and analyses on a large sample of single adults in the United States (1,210 people),
collected from registered users on a popular online dating website who shared information
about pets in their online dating profile. Results revealed that participants were most likely to own
dogs and/or cats, consistent with wider patterns of pet ownership. Supporting our first
hypothesis, results show that women express more discerning views of the role of pets in dating
(e.g., paying attention to how a date interacts with her pet) than men. Supporting our second
hypothesis, the role of pet dogs and cats differed on many measures, with dogs serving more
diagnostic purposes than cats for assessing a date’s caregiving expressions. Descriptive
analyses also showed that individuals of different age groups varied in the roles they ascribed
to their pets in partner assessment and mate choice.
Women showed more discerning views than men with regard to the role of pets in their
dating lives, consistent with our first hypothesis. On eight of 11 items (such as, “Have you
ever been more attracted to someone because they had a pet?”), women’s responses were
significantly different from men’s, pointing in the direction of women being more discrimi-
nating. Three dependent variables lacked sex differences, perhaps due to context (e.g.,
“Have you ever used your pet as an excuse to leave a bad date early?”) or there was too
little variation to yield differences (e.g., almost no-one indicated that a relationship could not
work with a “dog person”). Women seemed to rely upon cues of how a partner interacted
with a pet more than did men in determining whether or not the prospective partner was
worth dating or considering for a longer-term relationship. This sex difference is consistent
with the wider literature on female greater discernment of mate preference and choice,
indicating that it also manifests in this evolutionarily novel context of pets and online dating.
Moreover, for the one dating outcome variable on which the direction of male responses
differed from others (“Have you ever used a pet to attract a potential date?”), a higher per-
centage of men than women reported having done so. This sex difference is consistent with
a dynamic by which men advertise traits they perceive are desirable (as indeed the data
also show) to prospective mates.
While most theorizing and empirical research on humans and pets has focused on dogs,
the present study explicitly contrasted the roles of pet dogs and cats in dating, under the
hypothesis that they would differ. On nine (of 11) items, significant differences emerged with
respect to whether one owned a pet dog(s), a pet cat(s), or both pet dog(s) and cat(s). As
examples, these categories of pet ownership were associated with differences in whether one
expressed having been attracted to someone because of a pet, or in having used one’s pet
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to attract potential dates. The direction of these patterns was toward cats being exploited less
often than dogs as “social tools” in the dating world. Responses indicated that singles less
often advertised and were less responsive to cues of cat ownership or treatment. These con-
trasts between cats and dogs in the dating world are generally consistent with other aspects
of human interaction with pet dogs and cats (e.g., while humans describe in some cases
equally strong attachments to dogs and cats, interactions with pet cats tend to be less social
or demanding) (Bradshaw 2013).
We speculate that the role of pet dogs and cats in singles’ lives will expand as a topic of con-
cern to singles and as a topic of research significance to those interested in dating, romantic
and sexual relationships, and/or anthrozoology. One primary reason for this speculation is
declining fertility in most of the world. In the US, parents of young children are the most likely to
own a dog, but report less attachment to the animal in part because it has been obtained on
behalf of the children (Herzog 2010). Both younger and older adults without children report
more attachment to a pet dog, perhaps due to lack of fertility and associated attachment to a
pet (see Blackstone 2014). Media accounts in Japan (Evans and Roland 2012) and Mexico
(Sandoval-Cervantes 2014) suggest similar kinds of dynamics are underway as views toward
animals as pets change, alongside rising consumerism and declining fertility.
The current study has limitations. It is not clear how representative the findings from the
study are of Americans’ patterns of pets and dating more broadly, including among samples
not recruited via an online dating service. On one hand, the cross-cultural variation in human–
animal interactions argues against generalizing these findings to all societies, particularly to
those cultures where domesticated dogs and cats are viewed less favorably. On the other
hand, many aspects of the data are consistent with other bodies of theory and data with
greater societal focus on American pet dog and cat ownership, where pets have taken on
more social and emotional significance, suggesting that many features of the data resonate
with broader patterns of American pet ownership and dating. As a related illustration, our
study data show that a higher percentage of female respondents reported having pet cats
than male respondents, a pattern also found in a large, representative UK study (Murray
et al. 2010).
Other limitations of the study include reliance upon self-report (rather than observational or
experimental) data, a correlational research design, and the use of questions for which exter-
nal validation or reliability are not available (given that questions were crafted for purposes of the
online survey). Further, the current study was unable to assess the role of sexual orientation,
which may result in different patterns of findings, particularly with respect to sex differences in
the roles of pets in dating. With these limitations in mind, the current findings provide an inter-
esting next step for our understanding of the roles of pets in peoples’ lives in the US, and how
pets can indeed function as extended kin. Future research might build upon the findings and
background presented here by incorporating more experimental designs, representative sam-
pling strategies, diverse subject pools, and additional kinds of questions to better understand
how pets can influence human romantic experiences.
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