Do Dogs Prefer Other Dogs That Look Like Them?


Have you ever noticed that certain dogs seem to get along better with other dogs that look like them? For example, a Golden Retriever playing well with a Labrador while ignoring a Poodle. It’s a common belief among many dog owners that dogs prefer and feel more comfortable with other dogs of the same or similar breed. But is this just an observational bias based on memorable anecdotes, or is there any scientific evidence to support that dogs actually favor their own kind?

In this article, we’ll examine if dogs do indeed show preference for interacting with and playing with other dogs that closely resemble them in appearance and breed. We’ll look at theories on why this phenomenon may occur if it exists, as well as research evidence both for and against the notion that dogs care about looks when socializing. Understanding dogs’ social motivations and biases can provide insight into how multi-dog households interact and how to choose companion dogs that get along.

Dogs Recognize Other Dogs

Dogs are able to recognize other dogs, both of their own breed and other breeds, using different senses and cues. A dog’s sense of smell plays an important role, as each dog has a unique scent that allows identification. But dogs also rely heavily on visual cues.

Studies have shown dogs pay attention to the physical appearance of other dogs, taking note of features like size, coat length and texture, face and head shape, ear shape, and tail. For example, when shown photos of other dogs, dogs spent more time examining the head area, suggesting they focus on facial features for recognition.

Body language and movement patterns also assist dogs with identifying other dogs. The way a dog walks, holds its tail, moves its ears etc. can signal breed. So dogs take note of visual cues beyond just physical appearance to determine if another dog is familiar or a stranger.

While dogs can struggle with recognition across photos vs real life, overall they demonstrate a strong ability to identify other individual dogs, especially of their own breed. Both sight and smell allow dogs to recognize familiar dogs as well as categorize unknown dogs by breed, age, gender etc. (Source)

Dogs Show In-Group Bias

Research has shown that dogs exhibit in-group bias, meaning they show preference for other dogs that are similar to them in some way. One key area where this occurs is breed. Studies have found that dogs tend to favor other dogs of the same breed over dogs of different breeds (1).

For example, a study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science found that shelter dogs showed more affiliation and social behavior towards dogs of their same breed. The researchers brought pairs of crated dogs into a room and observed their reactions to each other. Dogs wagged their tails more frequently at dogs of the same breed. They also oriented their body more towards their breed-mates. This indicates dogs recognize and feel more comfortable with their own kind (2).

Dogs also display in-group bias through their preference for familiar individuals over strangers. When given a choice, dogs tend to approach and interact more with dogs they know compared to unknown dogs. Familiarity breeds comfort and dogs gravitate towards other dogs they have previously met and recognize (3).




Why Dogs May Favor Similar-Looking Dogs

There are a few potential reasons why dogs tend to show preference for other dogs that share their physical traits and appearance:

One is that favoring similar-looking dogs may have an evolutionary benefit. Dogs that associated with kin were more likely to pass on shared genes. So a built-in bias to interact with dogs of the same breed could be a byproduct of this evolutionary advantage. Essentially, dogs may equate phenotypic similarity with genetic relatedness.

Additionally, there is likely safety in numbers when dogs group together with others of similar appearance and size. A dog that finds itself alone among much larger dogs may feel intimidated or vulnerable. So preferring dogs of comparable size and look provides familiarity, backup, and security.

Examples of Dogs Favoring Lookalikes

There are many anecdotal reports of dogs seeming to favor and get along better with other dogs that closely resemble themselves. On dog owner forums and discussion boards, people often share stories about their dogs playing more with dogs of the same breed or dogs that look very similar.

For example, one Reddit user described how their Golden Retriever prefers to play with other Goldens at the dog park and tends to ignore dogs that look very different ( Other owners report that their dogs always gravitate toward and try to play with dogs of the same size, coat color, and appearance.

There are also many stories of people getting a new dog that looks nearly identical to their previous dog, and the two dogs getting along extremely well right away. It seems they recognize each other as being the same “type” of dog. However, these are anecdotal observations and controlled studies are needed to further confirm this apparent in-group preference.

Counter Evidence That Looks Don’t Matter

While some studies suggest dogs prefer others who look like them, other research indicates that appearance is not a major factor in dogs’ social preferences. A 2020 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that dog brains do not show a strong preference for faces, even human faces, compared to other images [1]. When shown pictures of faces versus everyday objects, MRI scans revealed similar reactions in the dogs’ brains.

According to this study, dogs rely more on personality, familiarity, and previous interactions when recognizing individuals. A report on the research from CBC News summarized that while dogs can read human facial expressions, their brains are not specifically tuned to get excited by faces like human brains are [2]. Rather than focusing on physical appearance, dogs pay more attention to the overall vibe, scent, and sound of a dog or human.

Other Factors in Dog Social Preferences

In addition to appearance, there are other factors that influence dog social preferences and bonding between canines. Age, size, and energy levels tend to play a role in dog friendships. Puppies often get along well and like to play together, while older dogs may prefer the company of other senior dogs. Size matters too – large breed dogs usually favor playing with other big dogs, while small breeds tend to stick together. Activity levels also impact social preferences, with highly energetic dogs seeking equally energetic playmates.

Individual personality differences also come into play. Just like with humans, some dogs are more outgoing and social while others are shy and aloof. Bold and assertive dogs often take the lead in initiating play and relationships, while timid dogs hold back. Friendly dogs are usually most popular and have an easier time making new dog friends. Less social dogs may only bond closely with one or two companions. As pack animals, dogs have complex social relationships within their groups. While looks may play a role, it’s not the only factor driving canine friendships and preferences.

How to Choose Companion Dogs

When selecting a second dog, the match in personality and temperament between the dogs is much more important than their appearance. Focus on finding a dog that complements your existing pet rather than going for looks alone.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, “Think about the current dog’s age, physical status, and personality while deciding on a new family member.” Consider energy levels, play styles, and sociability when finding a personality match.

Additionally, go through a gradual introduction process when bringing home a new dog. Let them meet on neutral territory first before allowing full interaction at home. It can take weeks or months for dogs to fully adjust to each other, so be patient and supervise all interactions at first. Rushing the introduction or leaving them alone too soon can lead to fights.

By focusing on personality over looks and slowly acclimating the pets, you can maximize compatibility and minimize risks when adding a second dog to your home.

Takeaways for Dog Owners

While dogs may show some preference for other dogs that share their physical traits, research indicates that looks are less important than commonly assumed.

Factors like familiarity, personality, and early life experiences seem to have a greater influence on who dogs choose to interact with. Owners should not worry that their dog will reject another dog just because it looks different.

When introducing dogs or monitoring multi-dog interactions, owners should focus more on behavior cues than appearances. Caution is still needed, as dogs can show unwarranted aggression towards unfamiliar dogs regardless of looks. But blanket assumptions based on breed or other visual traits are unfounded.

With proper socialization, training, and supervision, dogs can develop healthy relationships with other dogs from all walks of life. While vigilance is important, owners can feel confident that surface-level differences like fur color or ear shape do not predetermine a dog’s social compatibility.

The takeaway is to keep an open mind and judge each individual dog on its own merits. Paying attention to body language and personality nuances will serve an owner far better than relying on superficial similarities or differences.


In summary, the research suggests dogs exhibit an in-group bias and tend to favor other dogs that look similar to themselves. However, this preference is not absolute. Other factors like familiarity, personality compatibility, and early life experiences also influence canine social preferences.

For dog owners, the takeaway is not to worry excessively about selecting companion dogs that closely resemble their current dog. While physical similarity may confer some advantages, focusing too narrowly on looks could cause owners to overlook other dogs that may be better temperamental matches. The most important thing is choosing dogs with compatible personalities and energy levels.

At the end of the day, dogs form social bonds based on much more than appearances. By taking the time to introduce dogs properly and supervising initial interactions, owners can facilitate relationships between dogs with a wide range of looks and backgrounds. While dogs may show some preference for their own kind, their capacity for friendship extends across diverse types of canine companions.

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