Do People Get More Satisfaction From Large or Small Dogs?

A dog's size and an owner's personality affect satisfaction with pets.

Posted Aug 08, 2018

ChristianeBrand - Creative Content License
Source: ChristianeBrand - Creative Content License

A number of years ago, I found myself standing next to a dog obedience ring with my little Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Wizard, by my side. I had been chatting with a friend who was also competing that day. She glanced down at my little dog and remarked, "I think that Wizard is probably a nice dog and all that, but I could never love a dog who is that small." She paused for a moment to thump gently on the side of the oversized Golden Retriever at the end of her leash and continued, "I need a substantial-sized dog that I can actually get my arms around to make me happy, like Toby here."

This conversation came to mind while I was reading the results of a large opinion survey that had been sent to me by Brett Hodges. He is the editor of a website called The RightPet, which publishes information on pets and reviews of pet products. The document that he had graciously emailed to me contained the methodological details and results of an eight-year-long survey from 16,792 individuals, which included participants from a number of different nations.

As is often the case in large, broad-ranged surveys, the report contains many results and analyses — far too many to discuss here — but I thought that some of the results might be particularly interesting for dog owners. To my mind, the most significant finding in the survey has to do with the effect of a dog's size on the owner's satisfaction. For the purpose of data collection, dogs' sizes were divided into five categories — toy, small, medium, large, and giant. The results of this large data sample show that, generally speaking, dog owners are happier with larger dogs. This is especially true for men. When I looked at the data graph, it became clear that this effect is mainly because the men seem to be significantly less satisfied with the toy and small dog groups. For women, there is a virtually linear relationship between dog size and satisfaction, with the trend seeming to be "the bigger the better": Giant breeds actually produce more satisfaction than large breeds. For men, the increasing size of a dog is also related to increased happiness with their pet; however, men make no distinction between large and giant breeds in terms of their preference — they are equally satisfied with both.

The dog owner's age also has an influence on the relationship between dog size and satisfaction. The data shows that younger people more strongly prefer large dogs than do older people. Older people (defined here as individuals at least 70 years of age) seem to be equally satisfied with any dog of any size. The data shows a gradual increase in the popularity of small and medium-sized dogs as people age.

Another part of the survey that I found particularly interesting enters another bit of data into the never-ending controversy as to whether there are differences in the personalities of dog and cat owners. (Click here for more.) The new data on this issue came to be available, because the researchers included a short personality test, as well as information about preferences for cats versus dogs, as part of the survey. An analysis of the responses from participants finds significant differences affecting preferences for cats and dogs on two personality dimensions — openness and neuroticism.

When it comes to the personality dimension called openness, people who are high on this dimension are generally described as being curious, imaginative, and open to new experiences. People low on this dimension are described as being cautious and consistent in their behavior. The new survey found that dog lovers are more open to new experiences than cat lovers. Generally speaking, the results show that the higher individuals are on the openness dimension, the less they are likely to be satisfied with cats, and the more they are likely to be satisfied with dogs.

The second personality dimension for which there were reported differences is called neuroticism, or "stable versus unstable." People high on this dimension (unstable) are generally sensitive, nervous, and have quick and unpredictable mood changes. People lower on this dimension (stable) are more secure, confident, and easy-going. When it comes to women, their emotional stability dimension has very little effect on their pet preferences: They simply like cats more than men do. For men, however, the results are different. Moody and anxious men (the ones higher on neuroticism, who are apt to experience a lot of negative emotions) tend to be considerably less satisfied with cats, compared to those who experience fewer negative emotions.

There were other, more esoteric findings in this study, such as the discovery that "Pets and livestock owners say that geese and scorpions are the least satisfying animals to own." I think that I can agree with that finding, since I would prefer even a cat as a pet over a goose or a scorpion.

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