Why We Love Cats and Dogs
Dog Owner Behavior Patterns - What's Yours?

Sarah Wilson, featured in Why We Love Cats and Dogs

Update February 19, 2009: Professional dog trainer and behaviorist Sarah Wilson answers Five Good Questions on PBS Engage.

Every dog owner has a unique bond with his or her pet. But what does that relationship say about us? What does the way we treat our pets say about ourselves? Sarah Wilson asked herself this question, and came up with her list of the nine different behavior patterns seen in dog owners. What personality type are you?

THE FEELERS

The Angel:
Angels, as their name suggests, are all about saving dogs with love. They almost always adopt or rescue their pets, and if circumstances allow, they will rescue multiple dogs, and often own other types of pets as well, including cats, rabbits, gerbils, and birds. Many Angels may have dogs with special needs—such as a missing leg or eye, or animals that have been abused by previous owners. Angels have trouble disciplining their dogs, and hate to use any kind of force. As long as their pet is happy, Angels will tolerate lots of “naughty antics” and even disregard poor housebreaking.

The Soul Mate: Loving, attentive, and empathetic towards their dogs, true Soul Mates value the deep-feeling connections they develop with their pets. Soul Mates are always thinking of their pets’ safety and wellbeing, and a Soul Mate’s dog is always very well taken care of. Soul Mates are also known to take their dogs on many trips, adventures, and outings. As a result, their dogs are usually very well socialized.

The Free Spirit: Free Spirits have no interest in controlling their dogs. They want a stress-free, laid-back relationship, where their dogs have unlimited freedom to do whatever they want. Free Spirits often have high-powered, executive jobs that require constant decision-making. When they get home to their dog at night, they want nothing more than to just let their dog call the shots.

THE THINKERS

The Idealist: Idealists set very high, but realistic standards for themselves and their dogs. They believe there is one way to do things, and that is the right way. They like an orderly home, and make very good, loyal friends. Rules are very important, and they are disciplined, dependable, and strong. They expect the same of their dogs, but are often elated when their dogs bring a little bit of chaos to their homes — convincing them to loosen up a bit.

The Expert: Experts believe that the best way to keep their dogs safe and happy is to learn everything they can about owning a dog, training, and their specific breed or mix. An Expert will do extensive research before purchasing or adopting a dog. They are often extremely intelligent, with a sharp wit and an excellent sense of humor. They thrive on learning, and make sure their dogs do too. Experts will have their dogs enrolled in obedience, agility, and training classes.

The Observer: Observers appreciate their dogs as dogs and are fascinated by their behavior. Thinking like scientists, observers gain pleasure from watching their dogs and trying to figure them out. Everything their dogs do is a delightful puzzle, and Observers can easily lose track of time while watching animals be animals. Jane Goodall is a classic Observer, as are many loyal NATURE viewers!

THE DO-ERS

The Dynamo: Dynamos are busy people who get a lot done in a day. They are hard workers who stick to a tight and hectic schedule. Most of all, Dynamos are reliable. Their dogs are very well taken care of, and benefit from their daily routine. After going, going, going nonstop all day, a Dynamo can feel drained or empty. Some love from a dog recharges them, soothes them, and helps them keep their priorities straight.

The Master: Masters see themselves as more than dog “owners” — they are coaches, teachers, and leaders. They are extremely persistent and patient, and form their strongest bonds with their dogs by working together. Training takes on an important role, and many Masters are involved in agility and obedience competitions. Masters communicate constantly with their well-trained dogs, and the connections they form are often impressive. Masters need to feel in control, and their posture, gestures, and demeanor all signal leadership.

The Buddy: Buddies are high-energy, full force funsters. They are all for dog sports and outdoor adventures, anytime. They form connections with their dogs by sharing experiences with them. As confident, strong leaders, Buddies have no problem training their dogs. In fact, their dogs seem to naturally fall into step with their owners — the perfect Buddy System. This can be a wonderful and exciting life for both the owner and the dog.

  • Melissa Fischer

    These nine personality types, which are expanded in the book Dogology, by Vicki Croke and Sarah Wilson, are fascinating and incredibly true to life. Reading about and identifying mine and my husband’s types has helped me understand more about why we each relate to our dogs as we do and even some of why we relate to each other and our children as we do.

  • Lacdap

    Well, I’m an observer. No surprise there I guess, as I work in science! ;) The personality types are neat and certainly got me thinking….can’t wait to see the show!

  • LuvLightsLisa

    I am an Observer, with a fair side of Master/Buddy to go with it. My Partner and I both Loved the book and our family can’t wait for the show!!!!

  • Robin McMillen

    I have read the book, again, and again, each time finding subtle nuances of my types. I am a hybrid of
    Idealist, Master, Do’er, with a hint of Observer.

  • Basia

    Your dog owner types remind me a bit of Myers-Brigg’s personality types, which I’ve always found kind of fascinating and rather helpful in understanding how people interact with each other and how they work and play. So it’s kind of neat to see a version that’s really focussed on how we interact with our animals. And it rings true, I think, when I read the descriptions and think of myself and other people I know.

  • Betsy

    I am a soulmate. :)

  • Noelle

    I loved Sarah’s book, Dogology– learning about the relationship types has changed the way I look at the dog owner relationship, including my own! I can’t wait for the show to air!!

  • Jennifer

    I’m a soulmate with some idealist thrown in as well. :) I LOVED Dogology – it helps me understand other peoples’ relationships with their pets. Ultimately, I think it helps pick out the best pet to fit my personality.

  • Kei

    I am a Dynamo — with a bit of Observer mixed in — but then, I probably would not be able to have 2 border collies in NYC if I wasn’t!!!
    Can’t wait to see the show!!!

  • maggie B

    I think I’m all of those people! Does that make me a split personality? LOL

  • Kelle

    This program is very interesting. I learned that I was a Soulmate to my sweet girl Bear (17 year old Schipperke). I lost her the day before Thanksgiving. I miss her very much!

  • Beverly

    I missed the very first of this but saw enough to get the gist. I want to find out more as I know that the two Boxers and two cats that my daughter has have given her the day to day support to face each day and night after her husband recently died.

  • Debra Sherman

    Wow. Soulmate, definitely. Each of my dogs (Shadow passed 3 yrs ago; Zephyr is 10 now) is a part of me. They have each defined my life, work, fun. Shadow & I traveled/camped together all over the country! Now it’s just Zephyr and me. We live a quieter life at home, but my favorite part of any day is taking long walks in the park or along the river with him. I can’t imagine not having him.

    Great show! Thanks mom for calling and telling me about it. :-)

  • Dallas

    If I had a dog, I would probably be a mix between an observer and a soul mate. I love dogs and when I get to know those my other family members own, I tend to have feelings of happiness just for seeing the dog be a dog and for the friendships (I’m sure many people can agree with that, as well). Too bad I can’t have my own dog to see if that is true. :_(

  • Kurt

    Okay, I’m an observer. Of Norwegian Elkhounds. I, and my family, have owned them for over fifty years. I can’t say enough in praise of them. They’re all slightly different but they are all characters. I thoroughly enjoy watching them occasionally outsmart me! And I’m 65 years old and have an IQ better than 150. It takes intelligence to fully appreciate a Norwegian Elkhound’s intelligence. You don’t hunt moose by being dumb, because if you’re a dog the moose will kill you if you don’t outsmart him! And, yes, I am a scientist. Leif is my companion. He goes where I go. If he can’t go there, I don’t go either.

  • Dorothy tracey

    I planned my time so I could watch this program. I fell asleep and missed it. Please
    show it again

  • Kenn

    I’m a mutt! A bit Soul Mate, Master and Expert.

  • Sarah Wilson

    It will run many more times, I am sure. As for your type – some of us are purebreds and some of us are glorious mixes and any combination is normal. The point is to ponder – and laugh. :)

  • Dwyn

    Very, very interesting stuff. Kudos to you, Ms. Wilson. I was really impressed with your bits on the show. I enjoyed your insight into the owners, as well as reveling in the breath of fresh air regarding dogs and their behaviour! Thank you! I’m off to buy your book.

  • Karen

    I so enjoyed the show and was very interested in Sarah Wilson’s breakdown of owner’s behavior patterns – she was right on the money with regard to my husband, myself and a few dog owner friends I know. Having a rescued greyhound, I am a combo of expert, angel and soul mate. I appreciate the enlightenment. Will look for Wilson’s book for sure!

  • Robine

    I believe that Juno, my dog, and I are Soul Mates, but the master, expert, and observer describe me as well. If you can be all of these for your dog, you will have a very rewarding relationship with your pet.

  • Sarah Wilson

    Dorothy Tracey: Not to fret – you can watch it online. (How great is that?)
    http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/why-we-love-cats-and-dogs/video-full-episode/4673/

  • patsy

    I loved the show,I’ll be getting the book now.I think I am a bit of each,always have had cats and dogs my whole life,my lab Mick,he helped raise my son,gave me the emotional support I didn’t get from my now,ex!love my Mick,Rusha,is my bestfriend these days I get a bit teary eyed just talking about them.lol

  • Jeanette

    I am definitely a Soul Mate and Dynamo. Bernie Tu even goes to bible study with me. Because I usually work 10 hour days, I sacrifice things I’d like to have to keep him in daycare during the week. As a Dynamo, it’s Bernie Tu that keeps me grounded. He makes certain we go for our walks on the weekends and knowing he’s on the pillow beside me on the bed makes me feel a lot more secure because he is a great watchdog and lets me know when someone is coming to the door (but once he knows I know, he stops barking). He is definitely spoiled, but not rotten, and is a well-behaved little dog (he’s a 5 year old Shih Tzu). One of the ladies interviewed on the show said she wished she could have loved her boyfriend as much as she loves her dog. I wish I could find a partner as much a soul mate as Bernie Tu is – but I don’t think humans are capable of the kind of unconditional love we get from our furbabies. Really enjoyed the show!

  • Allison

    The show was absolutely wonderful. I really enjoyed learning more about pet/owner relationships, and furthermore, self reflecting on my own relationship with my little chihuahua Peanut. My family and I are probably a mix of Angel/Soulmate. Peanut was adopted from a shelter.

    I do have a question though–is there a cat equivalent of “Dogology”? I’m very interested to learn if anyone has done research about cat owners and their relationship with their pets (and more specifically, if anyone has broken it into precise categories such as Dogology). I can’t wait to read the book!

  • Sarah Wilson

    it’s such fun to hear about your pets and your stories. Bernie Tu sounds the much beloved lucky dog I would expect to be riding shotgun with a Soul Mate/Dynamo owner.

    Allison, I am beginning to look at the cat owner types more intensively so I will have to get back to you on details but I suspect, since we are who we are, that much of it does apply no matter what species we choose to attach to.

    Patsy, let me know what you think after reading the book.

    Right now, Ben (16-year-old rescued cat) purrs by my shoulder, PJ naps on the bed behind me and Wyatt is curled up by my feet. Making be a perfectly contented Observer/Soul Mate/Master (listed in descending order). :)

  • Chris Reardon

    Great show. I just lost my Border Collie a week before this show aired, and this was a great way to understand my own feelings of loss…and admiration. Many thanks!

    I was both a master and a buddy…but I don’t think my Border collie would have been happy if he didn’t have a master or a buddy. This is perhaps why certain breeds don’t do well with all people.

    Thus it probably would be useful to combine Ms. Wilson’s categories of people with a similar assessment of the pet…something akin to the later segment on the adoption center. The closer both the owner and the pet are, I assume the better the match.

    These classifications are fascinating, but it is interesting that many people state they fall into several categories. I do think that this is not just a one-way street: People react to dogs, and dogs react to people.

  • Kirsten

    I have lived with a lot of animals all my life, including a big pack of collies that my mom bred and showed, and both house and barn (almost feral) cats. I know I have tendencies towards ‘expert’ because I was fretting over which single category fits, lol, but then it occurred to me that I have changed over time, and with each of my bonds with my furry loves. Of course, I said to myself, they also have some influence over the type of relationship! : >

  • Sarah Wilson

    At a recent book signing for Dogology, an audience member said, “I’m not sure what I am, if my relationship with my dog is a pie chart….”

    I stopped her. Pie chart? That narrows it down – Expert or Observer speaking.

    We do change over time. Absolutely. To quote Agee, “…I only know him only as far as I know him…and all that depends as fully on who I am as on who he is.”

    Applies to all relationships we have, in my experience.

  • Paula

    I loved the dog owner personality part of the show, especially as I watched alongside my 7 year old animal loving daughter. She was entranced by all the dog/owner teams and your analysis of them.

    Your approach also gave me some valuable insight into my husband’s family who are all dog owners with loving but badly disciplined purebreds. Some insight, but I crave more.

    We visit there often and stay in their houses, which I have come to dread because unless I am on the other side of the doggie gate I am constantly assaulted with 40 lbs of bouncing, jumping, smelly invasions of my person and lots of unwanted sloppy wet dog kisses. These are kind, intelligent professional people with lovely expensive homes. All the dogs and owners have taken obedience classes and they can get their dogs to perform tricks but seem impotent when it comes to keeping them out of people’s faces. And still they shower the pets with affection and “Good girl” until I grow sick of hearing it.

    What type of owner takes excellent care of themselves, their homes and their dogs, but yet is unable or unwilling to teach the dogs to behave? Maybe if I understood this better I could be more forgiving of the doggie assaults.

  • Lisa

    I’m a soul mate and a buddy. I just bought a new puppy. She is so full of it, and she fallows me everywere!

  • Mikel

    Hi Sarah,
    How fun seeing the program – Zachary and I are still soul mates and you wouldn’t believe how many people in my neighborhood are calling him a celebrity! He is 14 years young and doing very well.

    mikel@furdogsnyc.com

  • kkls

    I believe that I am mostly dynamo with my dog, Kirby. I do discipline my dog, but I just love him being himself and am constantly thinking that I would be stifling his personality if I discipline him too much. My cat, Kitty, is the princess of the home. She usually gets what she wants, when she wants it. Kirby and Kitty have a brother-sister relationship, and i know that despite the complaining that they do when my husband and I are home, they love being here with each other.

  • Paul

    The one of the Cherokee bands, I don’t know which one, have a word that means “Dog-Friend’ — it bestows a quasi-human social status upon a dog bringing it into your human family, and is given by others, not the owner. But being involved in dog rescue for — well brought up in a house where my grandfather and mother both had from 1 to several rescue dogs — I have had 3 “Dog-Friends” in my life along with maybe a hundred others I have fostered or adopted, nearly all Northern Sled dogs, normally abused/abandoned, and generally older – the ones no one will adopt. From an Existential Buddhist (Poodle Xross Lassa) who I took in at 18 months and she lived until 18, and to Two Malamutes, both with wolf, one had 1/4 (Maggie) the other 1/2 (Half-Moon) — so both many would call a bit more “wild” but I’d just say they had a slightly different sense of perception, yet both ultimately able to form a bond of a different kind than many ‘pure bread’ dogs and who may have chafed on a shorter lead.

  • Morgan

    Im a soulmate all the way! unfortunately, my baby girl died on March 10… =(((( i still cry about it. She was a Cocker Spaniel and her name was Sandee.. she had congested heart failure and in the end… i couldn’t watch her suffer anymore.. it seemed like she knew too, she always howled when i cried as a young girl! Alomst mimicking my sadness. she waited outside my door and then jumped on me and just looked at me. and i felt better! i love her and will always miss her. RIP Sandee Girl… <3

  • Connie Kelts

    My dog and I are buddies, he goes to work with me every day so we spend a lot of time together. I am pretty sure he is smarter than me. I have learned to trust his instincts. Great article I have passed it on to many of my friends, they all have dogs.

  • Theo Poynter

    I bought the DVD ‘Why we love cats & dogs’ & was surprised to find out so many other people felt the same way that I feel about my dog. My baby (Roscoe) & I are so close & can pretty much ‘read each others minds” He is sooo special to me that I cannot do enough for him but I also teach him manners & EXPECT him to always be a PERFECT gentleman. I live in a retirement area & he started barking at everyone that passed by my window. Needles to say, I was very unhappy & nothing I could do seemed to change that behavior. I saw on Animal Planet to remove him from the situation. When he starts to bark I make a loud sound then pick him up & put him in the bathroom for 3 min. I did that 3 times in 1 day & it stopped him from barking. (he only weights 15 lbs.) Once he started to bark I made the loud sound & he stopped immediately. He now comes to me to let me know that someone is passing by or at the door by sitting at my feet & whining. WOW am I lucky!!! I thought some people might like that info. I think I am a cross between Soul Mate & The Thinkers. Thanks for your articles & all the info. Yours affectionately Theo Poynter

  • Ann

    I am an idealist and a soul mate. My husband was an expert/master. I never had a pet until we got Spot. My husband had some experience raising dogs. Spot really respect my husband, so I tried to model this human behavior pattern. The simulation did not go well. Spot could tell I was faking it. He would get sassy or growl at me if I gave him commands with a rough voice. He would do anything for me if I was gentle and kind. Our relationship got much better when I learned this important lesson.

  • Terri

    I fit into none of those categories. Where do I fit? I love the dogs we have because they are there, but they belong to my husband. The cat, too. I probably wouldn’t have a pet if not for my hubby. But because they are there, when they cuddle me, I enjoy the “awww” factor. When they inconvenience me with needing to care for them, I feel irritated.

  • Hope

    I am an Angel… I do a lot of rescue work and well, I keep a few here and there… I don’t however tolerate bad behavior or allow them to “run the show”. I have both cats and dogs and have had special needs animals as well. I just feel that they need an advocate and I am doing just that! I love all my furkids, each in their own way. They’re all special and give their love in their own way. We’re a big happy family of 4 cats, 3 of which are rescues and 3 dogs, 1 of which is a rescue. I love Phlinx, Princess, Shadow and Buggzy, the cats and Maggie (Newfoundland), Hanne (Beagle) and Sami (Shepherd Mix) the dogs!

  • Sean M.

    My dog Bozo (aka Bobo or Buddie) is an american bulldog and german shepard breed. We are definetaly soulmates, and in the “buddie” group. I adopted him from friend 4 years ago. I got him when he was only 1 1/2 years old. We understood each other to such a degree… when I broke up with my girlfriend of 3 years, I would find myself depressed, and he would ALWAYS cheer me up. He would cuddle with me, and put his paw on my lap as if to say, “hey bud, its okay… you’ll get through this”. He knows many tricks, and is disciplined. He only barked at people who he felt would be a bad influence on me. He was always right, and I trust his instincts. Sadly, about a year ago, I lost my high paying job, and my apartment and had to give him up. I gave him to my uncle and aunt, who live about 2 miles away from me. There he has a loving family, a HUGE backyard, and plenty of care. Everytime I go to visit him, he can “sense” me coming from down the street. He will run from the backyard to the front yard (my Uncle or Aunt expect me and wait with him till I come), and starts to wag is tail and SPRINT at my car. He will always be, mine and my uncle and aunt realize this. They have their own special bond with my Bobo, but him and I have an unbreakable bond that is on par with any human I know.

  • Happilymommy

    I don’t know what I am, but I would be lost with out my spaniels. My forever friends companion and family.

  • Sam

    Based on the descriptions, I am 100% “Soulmate” with some “Observer” and “Buddy” tendencies mixed in.

    As with all personality assessments, it’s fun to see how different people fall among the spectrum of types. My mom mom, for example, is totally an “Angel” but definitely has a lot of “Soulmate” in her relationship patterns with animals. My brother is primarily a “Free Spirit” with some “Soulmate.” And my dad, strangely enough, seems like he would combine “Free Spirit” “Soul mate” and “Expert,” with the first being primary and the latter two being tendencies.

    I wonder how much of our personality styles as owners are affected by the environment we grew up in? The “soulmate” style seems to be in each of my family member’s patterns in varying levels of intensity.

    Anyhoo, this was a very interesting article!

  • Mel

    I’m a Master toward my pekingeses and a Soulmate towards my Australian Shepherd. :]

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