Lauren Caldwell was dating a really attractive man.
A C-suite executive of a men’s clothing company, this guy was always dressed to the nines. He wore custom suits that were tailored just right. His on-trend shoes were always spotless. Aesthetically, he was perfect.
Too bad it couldn’t last.
One lazy Saturday, the pair decided to meet up for a relaxed brunch date followed by massages. Caldwell thought to herself that maybe they could pick up her 10-year-old hairless Chinese Crested dog Bowie afterward to hang out at the dog park. But when her date turned up in a custom-tailored, camel-colored leather jacket and a pair of white slacks, she knew almost instantly the relationship wasn’t going to last.
“I was like, there’s no way are we going to the dog park,” she says. “He kept wiping down his shoes [to make sure they didn’t stain].”
You see, Caldwell’s pet isn’t just an animal: Bowie is a family member, an integral and beloved part of her life. When the 33-year-old marketing professional isn’t building out nonprofit websites and newsletters for her paid job, she’s most likely hanging at the dog park with Bowie or organizing fundraising events for the local shelter in her volunteer role as vice president of Friends of KC Pet Project.
“If we’re not going to the dog park, then we’re involved in other dog things,” she says about her weekly routine at the shelter and other dog-related activities. “I don’t want someone being weird beside me at an event because a dog is jumping on them or they’re getting dog hair on their clothes.”
Caldwell’s furry friend factors into every part of her life—and, yes, that means dating, too. And she’s not alone.
Must Love Pets
Though Caldwell may be more involved in the canine world than many other folks, her love of dogs—and animals in general—is far more common than it’s not.
The American Pet Products Association biennial survey of pet owners found two-thirds of U.S. households had at least one pet in 2018, accounting for around 84.9 million homes.
Millennials accounted for the largest segment of pet parents for all types of pets, especially smaller animals like birds, fish and small, exotic companion animals, according to APPA’s Generational Report. More than 80 percent of millennials and Gen Z pet parents have dogs while just under 50 percent have cats.
"Millennials continue to be the largest pet-owning demographic and this shows in the data," said Bob Vetere, APPA president and CEO, in an announcement about the report. “Today, more than ever, pet owners view their pets as irreplaceable members of their families and lives ..."
So, how exactly has millennials’ love of animals affected the way they find and fall in love? Let’s take a look.
Millennials Want to Date Animal Lovers
Caldwell learned a lesson from that dating mismatch. Now, a love of dogs has become her top priority in a mate. About a month ago, she signed up for Dig, a dating app dedicated to dog-lovers. Though she doesn’t actually care if a potential partner has a pup of his own, she likes that this niche app filters out folks who have no interest in animals. And, she says, knowing you already share a common interest helps to break the ice.
“It’s really wholesome and refreshing,” Caldwell adds. “They’re all different and unique conversations about dogs, of course: It’s more than just saying, ‘How was your day?’”
According to Dig co-founder Leigh Isaacson, around 55 percent of single adults in the U.S. own a pet, the vast majority of which are dogs. Knowing the importance many of these singles place on their furry friends, Isaacson wanted to create a community of like-minded animal-lovers to connect—and hopefully find romance.
For Isaacson, the idea sprouted when her sister ended a relationship with a man who tried to be a dog person for her, but just couldn’t. It started with smaller things like covering the couch with a towel when the dog was around to essentially banning the dog from his apartment by the end of the relationship.
“It wasn’t just hurting my sister but it was actually hurting the dog,” Isaacson says.
Niche dating sites have become increasingly popular, according to experts at Global Dating Insights, a publication focused on the online dating industry based in Reading, U.K.
“Singles might be getting tired of the huge dating pool on [other] apps … so when they're ready for something serious they will want an app where they know the other users will have similar values to themselves,” says Dominic Whitlock, Global Dating Insights’ managing editor. “Singles who use Dig know that they are 100-percent going to meet people who are also obsessed with dogs.”
Even on broader apps like Tinder, researchers have found that dog-loving users were increasingly signaling their adoration of animals. At the end of 2018, the dog emoji was the third-most used emoji in user Tinder bios. And Dig research found that on dating apps, 73 percent of dog parents are more likely to engage with a person’s profile picture if it includes a dog.
Since launching in New York City for iPhone users on Valentine’s Day 2018, Dig has spread across the United States with around 120,000 users, spanning from New York City and Los Angeles to New Orleans and Dallas. One-third of users do not have a dog yet. “This was really important to us because we know not all dogs get along,” Isaacson says.
For each profile, singles fill out a profile on themselves and, if they have one, another for their dog with up to six photos along with basic info like where you work, went to school and the size of your dog. Users can scan through unlimited profiles, but Isaacson wanted to slow users down by sending a batch of five profiles at a time. For the profiles of interest, users click a paw at the top of the page to indicate a “dig.” When two people “dig” each other, they can start a conversation.
The app also includes tips and tricks from veterinarians and trainers on how to introduce dogs to one another and to new situations. And it pulls up a list of nearby dog-friendly date locations, ranging from dog parks and hiking trails to pet-friendly breweries and restaurants, which is helpful because…
Millennials Are Bringing Their Pets on Dates
For venture capitalist Jesse Beyroutey, 30, the most eye-opening moment of any new courtship is when he introduces his love interest to Chili, his 2-year-old Chihuahua-Pomeranian-Poodle-Terrier mix. (A true millennial, Beyroutey determined his dog’s mix of breeds by DNA test.) Somewhere between the first to third or fourth date, the Manhattanite likes to take his potential partner for an outdoor activity with the dog, whether it’s a hike in the woods or a walk or run around the city.
“I think it’s a great indicator of things I care about,” he says. “I get to see how they interact with a dog and approach playfulness: the metaphor and sometimes literal thing is if it’s someone who can get down on the floor and play with him.”
Ever since dog-friendly restaurant-bar-and-dog park Bar K opened in Kansas City, Missouri, Caldwell has been bringing first dates there to meet her dog Bowie.
Beyroutey and Caldwell are far from alone in their age group. Seventy percent of singles think their date’s reaction to their pet is important, according to Dig research.
“My dog is a huge part of my life, so if I see that my dog is uncomfortable in any way around someone I’m dating, I’m not going to take her reaction lightly,” says Monica Thompson, 30, one of the 1,000 millennial singles questioned by a 2014 PetSmart Charities and Match.com survey.
This rush many singles feel to see a potential partner’s interaction with their most intimate relationship—their pet—fits into one of the greatest generational dating differences between millennials and their predecessors. Millennials are dating less, having less sex and marrying significantly later than any generation before them, preferring what Helen E. Fisher, Ph.D., biological anthropologist, a senior research fellow at Kinsey Institute, Indiana University and author of six books, has dubbed “slow love.”
In a recent study of more than 30,000 people, Fisher found that millennials are spending more time and energy getting to know their potential partners before making a long-term commitment, drawing what Fisher calls a more successful map to lasting love than previous generations.
“We can all learn from people who don’t want to waste a lot of time doing things that are going nowhere,” Dr. Fisher, co-author of a chapter on “slow love” in the 2018 anthology “The New Psychology of Love,” tells the New York Times.
Millennials Think Pet Parenting Is Hot
“I think pet owners tend to be a little more responsible, a little less selfish and a little less self-involved,” says Jessica Kane, 29, who works at a pet startup during the day and performs comedy by night. “I know getting my dog made me realize I’m not the only one in the world.”
Kane, like many animal lovers, doesn’t necessarily care if a potential partner has a pet of their own, but she does think a love of animals coincides with an array of positive qualities: playfulness, for example, and a go-with-the-flow, laugh-in-the-face-of-stress attitude.
“If you’re going to have a dog, you need to have a sense of humor,” she says. “They’re going to chew things and pee and poop—it’s made me loosen up.”
Turns out, science supports Kane’s hypothesis. A recent study found that dog ownership may help shift the focus beyond the self and linked pet parenting to healthy development among millennials. In another study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2011, researchers found that pet parents had greater self-esteem, were more conscientious and tended to be less fearful and preoccupied than those who don’t have pets.
Those kinds of qualities translate directly to sex appeal. A 2017 survey conducted by toy company Petsies found men pictured holding puppies were rated nearly 24 percent sexier than men who weren’t, as well as 14 percent more trustworthy. And another study conducted by Dogs Trust, a United Kingdom dog charity, back in 2012, found that 95 percent of participants said they would be more likely to approach a person if that person had a dog.
Like Kane, Beyroutey isn’t necessarily looking for a partner with a pet, but he also finds animal lovers to be especially attractive. For him, appreciating animals, especially dogs, is “correlated with someone who is open, with positive vibes, and is OK getting a bit dirty and not being so perfect all the time,” he says. “All the sorts of things I care about.”
Feeling fondly toward people with animals spans across generational divides—but millennials seem to take those feelings further than their predecessors.
“Something I hear consistently from younger clients is, ‘If you don’t like pets, something is wrong with you,’” says Kristen Thomas, 38, head coach and owner of Open the Doors Coaching, which offers life and relationship coaching services in Kansas City, Missouri. “I never hear that from older people.”
Will It Last? It Might Be Up to Your Pet
When journalist Eileen Guo’s live-in boyfriend tired of her cat’s night zoomies around their open-space apartment and asked her to get rid of her beloved pets, she had a sinking feeling.
“When it came time to choose between him and the cats, I chose the cats,” says the 30-year-old. “Obviously, there were deeper-seated issues, but that was the impetus.”
Much of the research on human-animal relationships focuses on dog parents, yet cat parents are just as attached and bonded with their pets as their canine-owning brethren. Around 70 percent of millennial dog parents and 55 percent of millennial cat parents say their pet “is like a child,” according to the APPA’s Pet Owners Survey 2017-2018.
“Some people are adamant, ‘If you don’t like dogs, I won’t like you,” says Steve Dean, founder and online dating consultant for Dateworking.com and host of the Modern Connection Podcast. “Cat owners are the same way. They both share this idea: If you hate my kind of animals, I probably won’t get along with you.”
Across-the-board, most pet parents would choose their furry housemate over a partner if push came to shove. Pet Life Today polled 1,000 participants and found that 69.5 percent of respondents would break up with their partner if they were asked to give up their pets.
But there is good news for animal-loving couples who co-parent their furry friend. According to a 1998 study conducted by the University at Buffalo, couples with pets have closer relationships and interact more than couples who don’t own animals—and those most attached to their pets had even more frequent interactions with their spouses.
What’s even more impressive, however, is this: Researchers found that couples with pets handle stress and arguments better.
“There was a significant difference in blood pressure response to stress and recovery time among these two groups," says Karen Allen, Ph.D., UB research scientist and author of the study. "In some couples without pets, blood pressure remained high 10 minutes after the conflict ended."
Sounds like those must-love-pets millennials are subconsciously onto something.