Are Pets Good Judges of Character?

Some of our blog readers have politely requested that I not make them cry today. It was something like, “Can we pick a light and happy topic?” Of course I thought yesterday’s rescue story was happy, especially with the surprise puppies at the end, but even tears of joy can make us look rather worn down and puffy-eyed. I admit that I too could stand a few less tears.

Many of the tears people around me are experiencing have to do with relationship issues (and so were predisposed to crying with these emotional videos.) And, being in a rather pet-centric field, it got me wondering if we might avoid some of the relational drama if we would simply listen to our pets. Some people swear by their pet’s intuition, but others believe we’ve already made up our minds about people, and animals simply pick up on cues from us and reflect them.

Thousands of years of human interaction can’t be wrong.

“I’m still deciding if I like you…”

It does seem as if dogs, in particular, are anthropologists among us. They have been living among us humans for thousands of years, and have done a darn good job of domesticating us to their liking. So have our cats. Animals have also seen their share of bad humans and will often try to steer clear of certain types of people if abused.

My dogs and cats have studied me and learned how to train me to open doors and feed them on command. My male dog, Joey, is quite the affection hog, and will have me petting him without me even realizing it. Other animals, even wild ones, seem to gravitate to me, and I’ve traditionally liked to flatter myself into believing it’s a stamp from the universe that says I’m a good person, no matter what some may think. The alternative theory is that I bear some invisible universal sign that says “TRAINABLE” in Animalese!

Even the friendliest dog turns tail

As far as judging character, I would guess my dog would gladly let just about anyone in the house as long as they will do the rub time: “Oh, yeah, pet me right THERE… and the silver and china is over here…” There have been a few occasions, however, when Joey has tucked himself into a scared position with a deep growl and has run away when someone has come to the door that I dislike. He’s also occasionally done that for a newcomer as well. I definitely take note of that!

I have often thought I could have saved myself a lot of heartache had I paid attention to the way animals have responded to some of the shadier characters I’ve encountered. Even more so, I could have learned a lot about a person by the way they have treated animals!

“Groundbreaking” news

New studies suggest what animal lovers have already realized for years: dogs have empathy! Duh. Some would swear their cats do too. That will probably take quite a few more years of study and tax dollars to determine. Regardless, once again, it leads us to the question of whether the pets are picking up on our nonverbal cues about others and mirroring our own feelings, or are they good judges of character, able to see through masks people wear even before we are?

Do you have any stories about a pet judging a person’s character? Have you ever ended a relationship based on your pet’s opinion on someone? 

Highly suspicious dog photo by Seth Sawyer. “Still deciding” cat photo by Caroline Gagné.

11 thoughts on “Are Pets Good Judges of Character?

  1. I can’t say that I have had a lot of sleazy characters in my life, so I can’t comment on that, but my dogs are experts at the human training tricks. Quinn, our Airedale, and I have a nightly routine. I tell him it’s bedtime and he picks up his pillow or blankie if either has been stolen from his bed during the day. Then he walks down the hall to my daughter’s bedroom, pausing and looking back to be sure I’m following. He takes his bedding to his bed and puts it in place, checks out the window for the boogeyman, and then gets into his bed. Thats my cue to give him chin, neck, chest and belly rubs before he will plop down and close his eyes.
    My daughter has tried to take my place in this routine, and he just grumbles at her. It’s Grandma’s job!

    • I do love how our pets know the schedule even better than we do. They are so funny how they communicate their opinions! Thanks for sharing.

  2. My dad has very severe rheumatoid arthritis, and when I was still in college, my roommate and I had a dog, some sort of mixed breed, named Sadie who would come back to my parent’s house with me during breaks from school. (She’d been a stray that tried following me to class one day). One day over Christmas break, when my dad was in a really bad RA flare, he fell in the kitchen, and my mom and him were afraid he’d broken his collar bone. He was in so much pain he couldn’t even move, so he just lay there on the floor groaning. Sadie immediately ran to his side and wouldn’t leave him, but she was very gentle, which was amazing because she’s normally an extremely clumsy and energetic dog. She rested her head on his leg and just stared at him sadly and whimpered. My mom tried to move her so she could help my dad up, but Sadie wouldn’t budge and just stared at my dad. When he finally could get up, she slowly stood up with him and stayed right next to him to make sure he was okay, and when he went to lay down on the couch, she followed him and cuddled up next to his hurt arm. It was so precious.

  3. I am in agreement with Peter. Dogs do not see color or race or economic condition. I feel they just see good and bad. Have had a couple of incidents over the years, nothing big but enough to never doubt my dogs reaction.

  4. Pingback: Celebrity Pets We Love (That May Outshine the Stars) | BaxterBoo Blog

  5. I completely agree with this blog! My 4lb Chihuahua is a complete sweetie. I am not a morning person and can be a bit of a grouch, just ask my husband! Well now it seems that my dog also is a bit of a grouch in the mornings and will growl at me to leave her alone! When I come home from work in the evenings she’s a different dog!

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