Guys, if you're dating a woman who loves her dog, you'd better be prepared to like that dog, too — or fake it.
According to new research, a woman is more satisfied in her relationship when her partner feels the same about her pet as she does. If she's close to her dog, he'd better be, too. If she's more aloof, it's better if he doesn't get too snuggly with Fido.
For men, on the other hand, a woman's closeness to his pet doesn't affect his relationship satisfaction at all, according to study researcher Kristen Capuozzo, a doctoral candidate at the University of Houston.
"Either they're unaware or they don't care," Capuozzo told LiveScience. "It doesn't matter to them."
Capuozzo, herself a dog owner, decided to do the study after a couple of conversations with friends about the role their pets played in their relationships. One woman had just dumped a man she was seeing because he didn't like her dog. [America's Favorite Pets]
"I started thinking, 'I wonder if that actually does affect people's relationships?'" Capuozzo said.
So she and her colleagues recruited 120 cohabitating heterosexual couples to answer online questionnaires about how close they felt to their pets and how happy they were with their lives and relationships. Each partner filled out a separate survey.
Because 75 percent of the volunteers ended up being dog owners, there weren’t enough cats and other pets to figure out how animal type might play into the results. But for pet-owning women, it was important that their men matched their own feelings about their furry friend. Women reported being happier with their relationship when their partner reported similar levels of closeness to their pet.
Men's relationship satisfaction wasn't related to pet closeness at all, probably because men tend to be less concerned with household harmony, Capuozzo said.
"Females are much more in-tune with the harmony of the household," she said. "Is everybody getting along? Is there any kind of disagreement, any discord? If I'm super-attached to my pet and my husband isn't, then that might cause some disharmony: 'Why is that pet in my bed? Why are you spending so much money on that pet?'"
One twist in the results: When men perceived themselves as having a unique bond with their own pet, they were happier in their relationship regardless of how the woman felt about the animal. But when the woman perceived that the man was closer to a pet than she was, she felt worse about the relationship.
"She kind of gets jealous," said Capuozzo, who reported her results in January in San Diego at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
Those results deal with perception, Capuozzo warned, so the researchers hope to take a closer look at what might be causing the dynamic. But the take-away is clear, she said.
"If you're going to get into a relationship with a girl who has a dog, you'd best be prepared to like that dog just as much as she does or fake it," Capuozzo said. "Because she cares."
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Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.