Dog Fun

The Scientific Reasons Why Dogs Look Like Their Owners

Written by Richard Jeng

Have you ever been to the dog park, only to realize that you’re able to accurately match the dogs with their owners based solely on appearance? Or…has anyone ever told YOU that you looked like your canine companion?

Well, believe it or not, there’s a scientific reason for this. Interested in knowing why? In today’s article, we’re exploring the puzzling reason why dogs tend to look like their owners. 

Yes, it’s an actual phenomenon that happens to dog parents and their companions all over the world. Here are the psychological reasons and theories of why this is the case.

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Dogs Look Like Their Owners?

Just go to any dog park and observe. Or, sit on your front porch and watch the owners walk their dogs. It’s likely you’ll notice the crazy phenomenon of the “canine mini-me,” where dogs seem to resemble their owners.

Perhaps it’s that olympic athlete with a long face and sharp jawline walking his German Shepherd. Or the bearded fellow with his shaggy Schnauzer.

At first, this may seem like a huge coincidence. But how is it possible that this happens so often and with so many people?

Well, dogs certainly don’t magically develop to look like their owners. Rather, it has everything to do with how owners pick their dogs. That is, owners tend to pick dog breeds based on the breed’s resemblance to themselves.

Now you may be thinking that you would never do such a thing! However, this is a subconscious choice that humans make when picking their furry companion.

But this phenomenon reveals a lot about our narcissistic tendencies, which not only influences how we pick our dogs, but also our partners in life.

The Scientific Research

The first researcher to ever look into this phenomenon was Michael Roy, a psychologist at the University of California in San Diego.

He did this by going to three local dog parks, where he then photographed 45 dogs and their owners, separately. 

But in his study, Roy would ask a group of individuals to play the matching game. Judges were presented with a picture of the owner, that owner’s dog, and another random dog.

They would then have to pick out the true match. Nearly every participant was able to correctly match the dog and owner with a reasonable amount of accuracy.

Keep in mind, Roy gave no additional information or cues. This was a simple and forward task. Plus, there was no indication that the pair cohabited, such as a matching dog collar and necklace – if that even exists. 

What’s even more fascinating is that judges didn’t match the two based on any simple traits, such as size, hair color or amount of hair. Rather, it was the overall appearance and resemblance that judges based their choices on.

Was it a coincidence? After all, there were only two choices, so technically you had a 50% chance at the correct answer every time. 

Well, this test has been repeated with similar accuracy multiple times. So we can probably rule out the participants getting “lucky.”

Also, similar tests have had the same results in other places, such as Japan and South America, which likely suggests that this is an universal phenomenon. 

Only With Purebred Dogs

However, these results only hold true when owners had purebred dogs. Just think about it. Most mutt dogs tend to vary quite a bit in looks, as opposed to purebred dogs. 

And when a potential dog owner is picking a purebred dog, they’ll be picking what they want. All purebreds have a similar look and new owners can easily choose one to their liking.

On the other hand, most people adopting a dog won’t necessarily get a choice in physical appearance.

Eyes Are the Key

But what researchers have discovered is quite interesting. Most of the time, owners pick dogs based on superficial physical traits and appearances.

For example, women with long hair tend to pick dogs with long and floppy ears. In addition, heavier people tend to pick fatter dogs. Or a man with plenty of facial hair might pick up a dog with a similar-looking beard.

But not all desired traits are as obvious. Even subtle features like the sharing a particular shape of the eye can influence an owner’s decision.

In fact, Japanese researchers discovered that when the eyes of the dogs were covered in the photos, it became that much more difficult for judges to match their owners.

On the contrary, when test judges were given pictures containing black bars that covered the mouth regions, they were still able to successfully match the owner with the dog. 

So according to Japanese psychologist Sadahiko Nakajima, this suggests that the eyes are key to the dog and person resemblance.

Reasons Why Dogs Look Like The Owners

Perhaps the most obvious reasoning for this behavior is the allure of familiarity. In other words, it may be more comforting for a dog to resemble the people that the owners are most familiar with, and love the most.

And of course, there’s no one the owners are more familiar with than themselves. 

Have you ever heard the saying, “babies are most beautiful in the eyes of their parents?” Well, this may actually be because the children inherit the physical facial characteristics of their parents!

Psychologists call this the “mere-exposure effect” – a tendency for humans to prefer sights that are familiar. 

It’s why a woman with long brown hair, who sees herself in the mirror every single day, may be more likely to pick up an Afghan Hound with similar long locks of hair.

Psychology of Finding Mates (and Dogs)

However, other psychologists believe that this type of behavior may be a spill over from how humans evolved to find mates.

Researchers have found that many people subconsciously prefer to date those that look similar to themselves because physiologically, people believe a similar looking partner will have genes that are compatible.

In fact, this subconscious act extends much further than just finding potential mates and dogs. 

Some owners look like their cars too! There have even been scientific studies that show an owner’s dog also resembles the person’s car – further proving this behavior in humans!

For example, a person with a square jaw and larger mouth may prefer a breed like the Bull Terrier or Pitbull. This person may also prefer cars with a more aggressive grill and squarer fender.

Nurturing Animals That Look Like You

Another theory suggests that, through natural selection, humans have evolved to contain the strong desire and impulse to care for their own child. And of course, the child will likely look like the parents.

So is it possible that owners who see a small helpless puppy that look like themselves, also trigger these basic nurturing instincts to come out?

Some psychologists seem to think so. 

According to the scientists, the feeling people have about their kids is similar to the feeling they have about their dogs.

Many young couples tend to use dogs as a means of preparation for kids. And when kids eventually move out, they’re often replaced with dogs or other pets. 

All this, could just be because humans are genetically programmed to nurture those that look like themselves, whether their own child or a dog.

Owners Pick Based on Similar Personalities Too

However, this level of narcissism that we possess isn’t purely superficial. We don’t only gravitate towards dogs that look like us, but also towards dogs that share a similar personality too. 

For example, optimistic and generally happy people may end up with a Golden Retriever, Bichon Frise or French Bulldog. Or those that have a stronger work ethic may bring home a German Shepherd or Border Collie.

Plenty of experiments have shown that certain human traits, such as extroversion, can actually be measured in dogs. Like if a dog greets every stranger with a huge smile and kisses, then they’re likely to be extroverted companions. 

And according to a test designed by Borbala Turcsan at Eotvos University, dogs and their owners, more often than not, showed very similar personality profiles. 

The personality matches with their dogs were so on-point, that it was actually higher than the personality matches found between married couples or good personal friends. 

Now you may be thinking that as dogs spend more time with their owners, they become more alike. However, it didn’t matter if the dog spent a few months or a few years with the owner – the results were consistently high!

As a result, Turcsan concludes that “the correlation couldn’t be explained by the amount of time the dogs and their owners had spent living together.”

Rather, it’s likely that the personality, along with the physical appearance, were what made the dog breed so appealing in the first place. 


It’s certainly very interesting how everything played out. Tens of thousands of years ago, humans started to domesticate dogs for help in society. 

But throughout the centuries, we’ve slowly been breeding these companions in our own image, thus allowing for a better emotional connection between the two species. 


So, has anyone ever told you that you looked like your dog? Why do you think you picked your dog?

Let us know in the comments section below! Make sure to share this video with all the dog owners in your life!

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About the author

Richard Jeng

Richard has been raising dogs his whole life, including a Poodle, Pomeranian, Corgi and Australian Shepherd. He's always working with animal shelters and dog rescues because of his passion for all dogs. Fun fact: his all time favorite breed is the German Shepherd. Read More.

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