A University of Nevada team, led by anthropologist Peter Gray, tested several hypotheses about pets and contemporary courtship or dating rituals. Their study will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal Anthrozoös.

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Evolutionary psychology holds that women are more inclined to allocate resources to child rearing, while men tend to spend more time and energy on mating. The team wanted to verify if these tenants hold their own in a real life setting — if for example, women are more responsive to the way their dates treat their pets and men inclined to use their pets to attract sexual partners. Gray and his colleagues predicted that dogs, generally thought to require more attention than cats, would provide more powerful ques to women who would unconsciously size-up their date’s parenting qualities.

In collaboration with the pet store chain PetSmart and Match.com, the researchers sent a 21 question on-line survey to 1,210 single pet owners, 60% of whom were women and 40% men. As far as pets go, some 72% of them were dog owners, and 42% reported to owning a cat.

The study found that:

  • 22% of the men — but only 6% of women — admitted they had used their pet to attract potential dates.
  • 35% percent of women and 26% of men said they had been more attracted to someone because they owned a pet.
  • Nearly half of the women and a quarter of the men said they judged dates based on how the person responded to their pet.
  • 76% of women and 60% of men evaluated dates based on whether their pets like the person.
  • 64% of women and 49% of men said they were more attracted to a person if they owned a rescue animal.
  • 75% of the women and 54% of the men said they would not date someone who did not like pets.
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The results are supported by previous studies on pets and dating. In 2008, two French social psychologists had a young man named Antoine approach 240 randomly selected women and ask for their phone number to go on a date. Half the time, he would be alone, and half the time he would be walking a dog named Gwendu. And that little gray dog had a huge impact — only 10% of the women gave Antoine their phone number when he was alone, but three times as many were happy to do the same when he was accompanied by Gwendu.

A new take on dating

During the Better with Pets Summit, scientist Sandra Lyn argued that the millennial generation has a much different relationship with their pets than the baby boomers, and the results of the study suggest she is right: men in their 20s and 30s were more likely to use their pets as “date-bait” than older singles. Millennials also reported being particularly attracted to pet owners and more inclined to evaluate mates by how their dogs and cats reacted to the date. Millennials were also more likely to find pictures of pets posted on on-line dating profiles a turn-on.

All in all, the researchers’ hypotheses about sex differences in the use of pets as signals of mate quality were confirmed. Women were more discriminating than men on eight of the eleven questions related to the use of pets in evaluating dating partners. (There were no sex differences for the other three questions.) Dog owners were more likely than cat owners to use pets as indicators of a date’s attributes, paying closer attention to their pet’s reaction than cat owners, and more likely to say that the way a date treated their own pet mattered and to believe that person’s pet revealed a lot about their personality.

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The scientists also asked what the sexiest pet is, and dogs win by a mile. If you want to meet girls, don’t get a rabbit, none of the ladies reported them as being a turn-on.

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