While you may think you know the kind of pet you'd like, new research suggests a spur of the moment decision often leads to something new altogether.

By Zee Krstic
June 26, 2019
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Credit: kiszon pascal / Getty Images

Most dog owners will tell you that bringing a new pet into their home was a big decision, and some may even say they planned for the new addition for months or years. But if you've ever gone out on a limb and adopted a new pup in a spur of the moment decision, you wouldn't be alone-according to new research conducted by a team at Indiana University, humans are just as unpredictable when it comes to falling in love with a pet as they are at falling in loving with each other. The study, published in the journal Behavior Research Methods, says that people often have a dog in mind when they choose to adopt, but data recorded at local animal shelters suggested that most changed their minds when presented with a puppy that seemingly struck their heart chords.

"What we show in this study is that what people say they want in a dog isn't always in line with what they choose," Samantha Cohen, who pioneered the research as a Ph.D. candidate in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences, said in a press release. "By focusing on a subset of desired traits, rather than everything a visitor says, I believe we can make animal adoption more efficient and successful."

The research shows that the most important factors for new pet owners are age and playfulness rather than heritage features like purebred status. Physical appearance and "attractiveness" is also a key for pets, researchers found, which has been similarly noted in other research that focuses on human interactions. "As multiple psychologists have shown in speed-dating experiments, physical attractiveness is very important," Cohen said. "Most people think they've got a handsome or good-looking dog."

Researchers came to their findings after sorting different dogs based upon a list of different traits: sex, age, size, color, purebred status, nervousness, protectiveness, intelligence, previous training, energy levels, and friendliness and playfulness, among others. Before showing them at adoption events, Cohen's team assessed the adoption preferences of more than 1,200 people who had visited dogs at animal shelters. In the end, 145 dogs were adopted, and the researchers examined why people made the decisions they did.

These findings may help animal professionals match owners with dogs in advance and make adoption easier in the future, Cohen said. "It was my responsibility to match dogs to people based on their preferences, but I often noticed that visitors would ultimately adopt some other dog than my original suggestion."

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