When you see a tall thin woman with long red hair walking her dog — an Irish Setter — you may smile to yourself thinking they kind of look alike. It may be no fluke.

Many people, including scientists, have noticed that dogs often look like their owners. It’s a funny phenomenon that has inspired books, contests, and even scientific studies.


A Common Observation

So, is the assumption true? Do dogs look like their owners? There’s certainly some anecdotal evidence to back it up.

Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D., was at a dog show when she was struck by how much pets and their people looked alike, so she grabbed a camera and started taking photos. Later, she wrote the book, Do You Look like Your Dog?

“I think there is a fairly simple psychological explanation,” she writes, “Just as people gravitate toward other people with whom they share an affinity, so it follows that people will choose to own pets with whom they feel some kind of connection. Sometimes the choice is very conscious and deliberate, sometimes subconscious, but often people seek out pets who bear some resemblance to themselves, since physical likeness breeds a natural sense of familiarity.”

In her research, Scott found that some breeds of dogs resembled their owners more than others, with the Golden Retriever topping her list of look-alikes, followed by Collies, Irish Wolfhounds, Lhasa Apsos, and Poodles.


What Science Says

Or rather, what one study says, conducted by Dr. Nicholas Christenfeld, Professor of Psychology at UC San Diego. He took separate photos of dogs and their owners at a San Diego dog park, then asked respondents to match the photos of dogs to photos of potential owners.

In two-thirds of the cases, the respondents were able to accurately match dog with owner—if the dog was a pure breed. Accuracy dropped a bit, however, when it came to matching people with mutts.

Christenfeld notes that the accuracy in pure breeds might have something to do with selection—when people choose a pure breed, they know what the dog will look like as an adult. Mutts have a tendency to change more as they grow, and owners don’t always have an accurate idea what they’ll end up looking like. Additionally, mixed breeds may be acquired more spontaneously, or even accidentally, so the selection process is condensed or based on different factors.

Of course, it's possible for mixed breed dogs to look like their owners, too—how could you not gravitate toward a shelter dog with the same wavy locks as you? Or a pup who has your bouncy personality? As people, we tend to stick with things that are familiar or we can relate to, and our pets seem to be no exception.


In Conclusion

Do dogs look like their owners? Scientific studies seem to agree that, yes, indeed they do. And is it that so surprising? Our furry friends tend to be family, and, as such, the fact that they fit right in makes perfect sense.