When a man is walking a small dog, he is seen as less intimidating and threatening than when alone, a study has found, with women feeling safer, calmer and more in control.
Scientists from the University of Jaen in Spain recruited 300 women and showed them various photos of men and women either on their own or with a small- or medium-sized dog.
While large dogs have been shown in the past to foster feelings of fear in people owing to their heft, the researchers wanted to see if there was a difference between small- and medium-sized canines and if their lack of bulk helped put people at ease.
The team recruited a male and female actor, as well as borrowing a wire-haired dachshund and a Portuguese podengo-like mixed-breed to be the small- and medium-sized dogs, respectively. These breeds were picked because they were relatively uncommon, and there are little to no preconceptions or biases against them.
It was just the one person with or without a dog in any picture, with the animal on a lead and the human’s face pixelated.
“Dogs were adults, that is, dogs that did not have features directly related to puppyhood,” the researchers wrote in their study, published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.
The women were asked to imagine they were alone and the person, with or without a dog, in the photo was walking towards them. For each image, they rated how they felt about the situation. Responses showed that a dog made them feel more comfortable, and this link was stronger in smaller dogs than medium-sized ones.
“When actors were accompanied by medium- or small-sized dogs, they elicited more positive reactions than when they were alone,” the scientists said.
“Specifically, participants felt more positive (i.e. more valence), more in control (i.e. more dominance), calmer (i.e. less arousal), and safer when they observed urban public scenes containing a dog.
“Our results are significant as they show that dog presence (regardless of dog size) affects emotional reactivity and sense of safety,” they added.
The male actor was 39 years old, 5’4” tall and weighed just over 10st, but the findings will likely apply to all men, big as well as small.
This is good news for large men who love small dogs, making the most intimidating gent appear more approachable – even the hulking figures of Hafthor Bjornsson, the once world’s strongest man and “The Mountain” from Game of Thrones; Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the wrestler-turned-action film star; and Hugh Jackman, the man who played the X-Men superhero Wolverine for almost two decades.
Bjornsson is famously besotted with his pint-sized pet Pomeranian, while Johnson and Jackman have a fancy for French bulldogs.
The slightly less intimidating, but no less famous, Jonah Hill, Simon Cowell and the Rev Richard Coles are also avid small dog lovers – all men can reap the rewards of a diminutive companion.
The study also looked at whether the environment in which the human and dog was pictured affected how they were viewed, and how much of an impact the dog had.
For example, how would a woman feel when seeing a man and his dog in an “aversive” setting, such as urban streets, compared to a more positive setting, like a leafy suburb.
They found that the benefit of having a dog was larger when the surrounding environment was deemed to be more intimidating.
“Our study expands on previous results, indicating that the positive dog effect seems to be powerful enough to remain in urban public spaces,” the scientists said.