Whichever side you're on—dog walker or passerby—we're familiar with the phenomenon. A cute dog is being walked and everyone flocks to see it, pet it, and ask its walker questions about its breed, age, and name. While the dog is the center of attention, oftentimes these interactions can lead to something more. Most people's defenses go down when they see a dog and they assume a lot about the owner—that they're caring, responsible, and essentially incapable of being a bad person. The phenomenon is so apparent (and has the science to back it up) that The New York Times even ran a story titled, "Need a Date? First, Get a Dog."
"Having a dog really says something about you," Helen Fisher, a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and a chief adviser to Match.com, says in the article. "It says you can care for a creature, that you can follow a schedule and get home to feed it, that you can walk it and love it and spend time with it." One Match.com survey revealed that one-third of respondents said they had been "more attracted to someone" because they had a pet. The same survey found that approximately two-thirds of respondents said they would judge their date based on how he or she responded to their own pet and more than half said they would not even date someone who didn't like pets.
Though The New York Times story provides the anecdote of a middle-aged businessman finding himself surrounded by "a gaggle of young women" every time he walks his mutt, Donut, the dog-people phenomenon works across all genders. "The kind of benefits you see in terms of increasing the perceptions that someone is reliable and caring—I think those are generalized across everybody," says Daniel J. Kruger, a research professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor who studies human mating strategies.
While it's acknowledged that this information can certainly be misused by friends, relatives, or frat houses borrowing other people's pets to garner attention from potential dates, Fisher still calls dog ownership "a real honest message" that can communicate so much about how individuals can care for and be devoted to someone other than themselves.