Reigning Cats and Dogs

Cat or Dog? Which is “better?” Which would YOU choose?

Depending on who’s asking, the question itself may imply that there’s a right answer and a wrong answer. Sparring between rival camps has grown as contentious as the debate over city vs. suburb, taxes vs. spending cuts, Ginger vs. Maryann.

What stirs this debate may be the apparently distinct personality differences between cat and dog owners. Several studies exploring this phenomenon essentially reveal that human personalities tend to reflect those of their chosen pet category.

First, let’s look at history. Domestication may have shaved some edges off the hunting skills of both dogs and cats, but other traits remain unchanged. Cats tend to roam at night while dogs like to romp during the day. Dogs are social animals; cats prefer solitude. Cats can take or leave play – for dogs, it is their life’s blood. So it should be no surprise that domestication drew the lines of preference for humans with very different needs and personalities.

Next, let’s talk numbers. According to a study by Dr. Denise Guastello, Associate Professor of Psychology at Carroll University, about 60% of 600 college-age students identify as “dog” people while 11% identify as “cat” people (29% identify as both). In a 2010 Associated Press poll, 74% of respondents across all age groups said they like dogs a lot while 41% said the same about cats (note the overlap of 15% who like both a lot). The same sample showed that 15% of respondents disliked cats a lot while 2% disliked dogs a lot.

Now, let’s compare apples and oranges. Sam Gosling from the University of Texas, Austin, queried 4,565 pet owners and found differences in values and social orientation between dog and cat lovers.

Gosling showed that dog owners are 15% more extroverted and 13% more agreeable, meaning that they are more socially-oriented. Dog people are also 11% more conscientious and exert more self-discipline; they lean traditional in taste and world view. Dog people tend to be male and call the burbs or the country their home.

Want to toss your trip’s itinerary and wing it? As a cat owner, you are 11% more likely to welcome adventure, cultural diversity and unconventional beliefs. You are more sensitive and open to other people, but the flip side to this is that you are 12% more “neurotic.” Cat people tend to be female and prefer to nest in their urban apartments.

Adding to the contrasts, the Carroll University study revealed that – wait for it – cat people are smarter overall. However this may apply only to bookish pursuits as dog owners were found to be better listeners (and therefore more “emotionally intelligent?”); dog people seek companionship while cat people seek affection.

While it appears that dog and cat people are not interchangeable, dog people seem to be more flexible. Of the 6,149 people surveyed by Dr. Stanley Coren of the University of British Columbia, 70% of dog owners would accept a kitten if their home had adequate space and there were no objections from other family members. On the flip side, 68% of cat owners would never bring a puppy into their home, even under ideal circumstances.

While these contrasts are interesting they are not definitive proof that dog owners are this and cat owners are that. Some people may take comfort in divisive stereotypes. They wish to declare that the striking differences between cats and canids are differences of merit – and that they land on the meritorious side by virtue of their choice.

Of course, our companion animals couldn’t give a bi-pedal’s behind about the debate. They are too busy just “being” their wonderful selves in the myriad of packages they just happened to come in.

We could learn from them. Actually, we can’t help but learn from them. A survey of Chicago residents ultimately revealed that 90% of pet parents were “very highly attached” to their pets.

Debate over.