We Choose Dogs the Same Way We Do Boyfriends/Girlfriends

Countless glossy eyes stare into your soul. Your face is soaked with slobbery kisses from each hopeful. The situation is the same every time you enter an animal shelter. It’s so difficult to decide who the newest member of your family should be, and new Indiana University research is giving us insight as to why.

A current research associate at the University of Virginia, Samantha Cohen studied dog adoption during her time at IU alongside cognitive science, psychology, and informatics professor Peter Todd. Their team had two goals: understanding the motivations behind people’s choices at shelters and utilizing that information to help reduce animal overpopulation (#adoptdontshop).

Cohen was able to observe adopter behavior closely as a Bloomington Care and Control adoption counselor during the study. She stated that adoptions are largely “influenced by what people think they want”. Sounds a lot like dating, huh? Turns out Todd previously spent time researching romantic partner choice and was already well-versed in companion selection. The characteristics studied in Todd’s works translated fluidly between two-legged and four-legged mates.

The research group focused on both physical and emotional traits when it came to adopters’ decision making. The traits found to have the greatest influence on pet selection were age, sex, playfulness, size, and intelligence.

The study took into account features adopters desired upon first deciding to adopt versus which dog he or she actually took home. While preferences matter, Cohen said, “It’s not clear that those [preferences] determine their choice.” If you’ve ever been in this situation, you know that you go in with a strategy, but ultimately, you’re overwhelmed with emotion. Julia Eppley, the shelter manager at Bloomington Care and Control agrees and states that this (the wave of puppy love that washes over you) and lifestyle are the main determining factors in adoption.

That’s where adoption counselors come in. Despite their checklists for the perfect pet, people will disregard their needs in favor of their feelings. Adoption counselors mediate the adoption process and help future pet owners match their life with a dog that would fit well in it. Whether it’s a background or personality issue, “Animals are individual[s]”, said Eppley, and this element cannot be neglected when it comes to bringing a new family member home.

“Sometimes the process doesn’t work out well,” said Todd about adopting from a shelter. In fact, a 2013 study by the American Humane Association found that 1 in 10 pets adopted from a shelter were no longer in the home 6 months later. The primary goal of the study was to improve the adopting experience so its rate of success improves. “Helping people realize what are the important aspects of adopting will help them to make choices they are happier with,” Todd said.

Happy fur parents means forever homes and a greater awareness for the cause. Successful adopters typically become advocates for adoption versus purchasing an animal, and since 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized every year according to the ASPCA, every adopted pet is one less to add to the statistic and one more happily ever after story.

Williams, A. 30 June, 2019. Dog adoption gets the scientific approach with new IU research. Retrieved from https://www.idsnews.com/article/2019/07/dog-adoption-gets-the-scientific-approach-with-new-iu-research.

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