May 15, 2015
Around 7 o’clock this morning, I was slowly crisscrossing my backyard picking up dog crap. I know: What a way to start the day. It’s become a weekly pre-lawn-mowing routine for me during the warmer months. And, much to my surprise, I’m more than happy to do it.
Until about a year and half ago, I wouldn’t have been willing to or even remotely comfortable doing anything of the sort. I absolutely considered myself a cat person. No question about it. I grew up with several cats and thought that any pet worth a damn should clean itself, could be left alone for a long weekend, and should have the common decency to take care of its business in an enclosed, pre-defined area of my choosing. I was even partial to cats’ typically conditional love — letting you know when they need attention, ignoring you when they don’t, and making you work for their affection, often with little in return. What more could you want?
I certainly didn’t think I’d ever actually own a dog. To me, dogs were exactly what you didn’t want in a pet. They smell bad, they’re needy, they’re loud, they destroy things, and if you leave them for much longer than half a day you’ll have a disgusting mess on your hands. And the constant walks and carrying poop bags? No thanks. I just didn’t understand all the fuss.
When I met my wife she had (and we still have) two dogs she absolutely adored (certainly one more than the other, though I won’t name names). After meeting them I definitely had a few fleeting “what the hell have I gotten myself into”-type thoughts. Certainly not about my wife — just the dog situation.
They’re quite a strange pair. One is an exceptionally calm, 10-year-old Akita—St. Bernard—Shepherd mix named Dean. Despite his relaxed nature and affinity for naps, he’s inherently a runner who will take any opportunity to escape. Dean’s been the cause of many frantic search parties, and last summer he even took a solo stroll that ended with my wife chasing him down the middle of I-35 at 6:30 a.m. and stopping traffic to finally corral him. Good stuff.
The other is a 4-year old, 15-pound, pug-miniature pinscher mix named LG (a.k.a, Little Girl) who is nosey, hyper and just plain strange. Her desire to play fetch borders on annoying, her paws smell strangely like Cheetos, and more often than not she somehow sneaks up in the middle of the night — so I wake up to find her sitting right next to my head, staring at me.
Yet despite all of these things I would have once considered terrible, somehow I’ve grown to love having them around. They’re pretty hilarious. In fact, in a very short time it’s become hard to imagine not having dogs. So, it seems that I’ve become a dog person.
That got me thinking about what this new identity means and whether there are benefits to having dogs (you know, other than their unconditional love and sometimes uncontrollable excitement, etc.).
There’s a growing body of research exploring the differences between self-identified dog and cat people. Psychology Today reports that dog people tend to be more extroverted, cat people score higher in intelligence, and that the kind of pet with which you identify may reflect your world view (as it relates to things like social dominance and possibly even your political leanings).
Researchers at the University of Texas found the same results about dog lovers being extroverts, and also that they’re more agreeable and conscientious. Cat people, on the other hand, tend to be more creative, neurotic, and less traditional.
On there other hand, there also is evidence that our pet preferences are affected by the pets with which we grew up and geography (urban v. suburban, etc.).
Whether I have the characteristics of a dog or cat person, I’m not entirely sure — I’ve apparently been both. It’s hard to think I’ve become more extroverted and less creative just because I now have dogs in my life. But I do think there’s a different social aspect of having dogs because they require more time and effort, and typically are a bigger part of their owners’ lives. I often find myself in conversations about my dogs, other peoples’ dogs, and sometimes even dogs generally. I’ve definitely never had that experience with cats. And, as with the way I started my day today, I didn’t think I’d find myself in that situation, but I’m more than happy to be there.