Dogs owned by men, especially neurotic men, approach their owners more often than dogs of female owners, according to new research.
That doesn't mean, however, that they necessarily prefer men over women.
The findings, published in the journal Interaction Studies, add to the growing body of evidence that pet owner gender and personality may influence an animal's social attraction to the person.
Recently, for example, a study determined that women and cats enjoy particularly strong bonds. Now some of the same members of that cat research team have turned their focus to dogs, which really may be man's best friend.
"The sensitivity of dogs to owner sex may be rooted in their wolf ancestry, where sexes engage in distinctly different social roles," lead author Manuela Wedl told Discovery News.
Wedl, a University of Vienna researcher, project leader Kurt Kotrschal, and their colleagues observed and analyzed how dogs and their owners interacted with each other during an experiment as part of a pilot study.
Ten male and 12 female owners of male dogs were each asked to view 15 dog pictures that had been placed on the windows and walls of a room. They were also asked to write down three words that they would associate with each of these pictures. This activity was just meant to keep the owners occupied because the researchers were more interested in what happened next.
As each owner carefully studied the pictures, the researchers allowed that person's dog to enter the room. The study authors then noted how quickly the dog approached its owner and how long it remained close to the person.
Prior to this experiment, the owners filled out questionnaires that helped to determine their personality types and how they felt about their dog.
Neurotic men with neurotic dogs (described as not confident and "anxious" as well as "less vocal and aggressive") appear to be magnets for each other, with dogs of such owners making a beeline for their human partner and staying close together afterward.
Wedl, however, pointed out that overall she and her team "did not find any effect of owner gender on the time the dog was staying close to the owner or on the time the dog was oriented towards the owner."
If a woman scored high in neuroticism, her dog would also tend to stay close by.
"Owner personality may affect owner behavior in a way that either supports or inhibits social attraction in dogs," Wedl said. "For example, owners scoring high on neuroticism may mainly regard their dogs as being a social supporter and thus will frequently interact with them and reinforce spatial closeness with their dogs."
The study also found that the more important it was for the owner to "spend time with the dog," the longer the dog and owner were observed to be close or next to each other.
Andrea Beetz of the University of Rostock has also studied dog and human interactions. She told Discovery News that "the frequency of approach of (dog to owner) should not be interpreted directly as liking them more."
"Frequent approaching, but not maintaining contact, may on the one hand indicate a higher wish for contact, but on the other hand could also indicate more insecurity in the relationship," Beetz explained. "The dog might seek reassurance."
What is clear from the study, Beetz suggested, is "that a dog's attraction to his owner depends on many variables, including owner personality and quality of the relationship."
"With regard to dog training, such as due to behavior problems, the results point to the importance of focusing not only on the dog, but on the dog-owner dyad (pairing) in order to achieve a change in behavior and relationship," she added.
Wedl and her colleagues plan to do a larger scale study examining dog social attraction to human partners. For this most recent pilot research, only male dogs were included, so it's unclear at present if that affected the findings.