Do Dogs or Cats Make You Look More Attractive?

The presence of a dog or a cat in a photo of a person can affect its appeal.

Posted Jan 25, 2017

Pixabay — CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay — CC0 Public Domain

I was attending a media conference in downtown Vancouver, Canada. I was there because I was scheduled to participate in a symposium to provide information to authors who wanted to write nonfiction books and articles — specifically how to turn scientific jargon into understandable language for the average reader. While I was there I noticed some interesting talks which I decided to attend, even though they were outside of my normal interests. One of these had a title which was something like "How to Make Photographs of Women More Attractive and Appealing".

The speaker was a very successful commercial photographer who did work for many major magazines, plus a lot of photography that was used in advertising. At one point in his talk he said "If you want to make a woman appear to be, not only more attractive, but friendlier and more approachable, the trick is to photograph her interacting with a cat or kitten." He then went on to show some very nice photographs of women with cats. I was somewhat puzzled that he did not mention the possibility of introducing a dog into a photograph with a woman since there is lots of evidence which shows that people with dogs generally appear to be friendlier (click here for more about that). So I waited until after the talk, and until all of the questioners had left the room, and I then approached him, introduced myself, and invited him to have a cup of coffee with me at a nearby open café in the conference center.

While we sat drinking coffee from cardboard cups I told him about a conversation which I had a number of years ago with a lovely fashion model from Montreal. She told me, "Because of your book [The Intelligence of Dogs] some people teased me a lot because I own Afghan Hounds and you said they were not very smart. The truth is that I really didn't pick them for their brains. They are smart enough to be good pets, which is all that matters. I really picked them for their looks. They are very beautiful and walk most elegantly. I think that they show off a woman with my build very nicely. I have four Afghans. One of them is black, one is that kind of honey brown and two are white (except for their faces that are a little gray). I picked those colors because they match most of my wardrobe. I always wear some white, even if it is in my accessories, and like to dress mostly in blacks and browns. That means that if I have one of the colored dogs and one white one with me I am perfectly coordinated with my dogs. The reason that I have two white dogs is for when I have to wear colors. Two white Afghan Hounds will highlight any outfit.

"I'm not the first person who used dogs as part of their wardrobe. I got the idea from some other people. When I was starting out in this business someone told me a story about that beautiful blond actress Jean Harlow--from the 1930's and 40's, I think. You know she did that film Dinner at Eight and some others where she always played the beautiful sexy woman. Anyway, there was this publicity photograph of her with one or two Old English Sheepdogs. Somebody asked her why she liked this kind of dog and Harlow said 'I like any dog that makes me look good when it stands next to me.' I remembered that. That is why I have Afghan Hounds--they make me look good when they stand next to me."

The photographer disagreed with her conclusion. "Maybe if you had a woman interacting with a puppy it might increase her attractiveness and appeal, however not with a dog. And even if there was some modest benefit of having the dog in the photo it wouldn't be as great as having a cat."

Since I knew of no data that addressed the issue of whether having a dog or a cat in a photograph would increase the attractiveness of the person beside it, I wondered if there was a straightforward way to gather such data. I knew that it would be easy to find a huge number of photographs of women with dogs or cats on the Internet, and I have used data like that in other research (click here for more about that). However, simply having the photographs without some indication as to how attractive these images appeared to people viewing them would not be enough to answer the question. It was then that I remembered that in the huge archive of photographs on Flickr there actually was a way in which viewers could express an opinion about each image. In the lower right corner of each photo is a star icon which indicates the number of "faves" that have been posted for that image. A fave is much the same as expressing a "like" on Facebook — serving as an indication that the person viewing the image likes it, or finds it to be appealing and attractive. Simply clicking on that star allows the viewer to express that they find that particular photo to be pleasing.

So I set about gathering some data. Using the search terms: woman or girl, combined with dog or cat, I browsed through the array of Flickr photos noting how many faves each had gotten. I accepted photos which were either black and white or in full color, however I did place some restrictions on the photos that were scored. I chose women who appeared to be in the range of about 18 to 40 years of age; most of their face and most of the face of the dog or the cat with them had to be visible (no dramatic lighting which washed out features etc.); the woman could not be nude, in a sexy lingerie or skimpy bathing suit, and no dramatic or fantasy costumes, but rather dressed in normal clothing; there could be only one person in the photograph (although there could be more than one dog or cat); any dog in an image could not obviously be a puppy; and finally the pose had to be relatively passive, not engaged in active sports and so forth. In total I scored 200 images of a woman with a dog and another 200 images of a woman with a cat. Examples of scorable images are shown here.

Photos by Mama Marcia & Alexander Lyubavin — Creative Commons License
Source: Photos by Mama Marcia & Alexander Lyubavin — Creative Commons License

Although I did not keep a running tabulation, one interesting fact became clear as I was searching for scorable images, namely that there were a lot more images of women with dogs then there were images of women with cats. This may be an indication that people are more likely to address social interactions to dogs than to cats.

The data were then statistically analyzed (for those of you who like such details these are included as an appendix at the end of this article) and the results were quite clear. The average number of faves for the pictures of a woman with a dog was close to 12, while the pictures of a woman with a cat averaged only 2 faves overall. There was huge variability in the rankings of all of the photos, with the vast majority of receiving no faves at all. However the variability was much greater in the woman and dog images, with the highest number of faves received by any photo in the sample that I scored being 950 as opposed to the highest number of faves for the woman and cat images being 40. The difference between the ratings of the photos of women with dogs and cats is statistically significant, and the conclusion is that a photo of a woman with a dog is close to six times more appealing than a photo of a woman with a cat.

Looking at these results I couldn't help but think to myself that perhaps that Montreal super model had it right when she claimed that dogs could be a useful fashion accessory for a woman.

Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Gods, Ghosts and Black Dogs; The Wisdom of Dogs; Do Dogs Dream? Born to Bark; The Modern Dog; Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History; How Dogs Think; How To Speak Dog; Why We Love the Dogs We Do; What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs; Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies; Sleep Thieves; The Left-hander Syndrome

Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission

Data and Analysis:

Number of faves on Flikr for images of a woman with a dog vs a woman with a cat.

Welch T-test results

(this version of the T-test is used because the variances in the 2 samples are markedly different)

Review of data:

         With dog            With cat 

Mean   11.96               2.03

SD       69.42               4.84

SEM    4.91                 0.34

N         200                 200    

Intermediate values used in calculations:

  t = 2.0189

  df = 200

  standard error of difference = 4.921

P value and statistical significance:

  The two-tailed P value equals 0.0448

  By conventional criteria, this difference is considered to be statistically significant.

Confidence interval:

  The mean of Woman with Dog minus woman with cat equals 9.94

  95% confidence interval of this difference: From 0.23 to 19.64

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