December 8, 2013

Cat vs. dog people -- clues from pet items at two hip young retailers

I've been looking into the differences between cat people and dog people, trying to boil them down to the most basic causes. Some groups are more cat-loving than their counterparts, although there's typically enough overlap to require a more fine-grained look, a discussion of exceptions, and so on.

Well, not with the two groups we're going to look at first. I couldn't believe how totally separate they were.

Two personality traits appear to underlie their many behavioral differences: cat people are more empathetic and curious about people, and dog people more oriented toward things; and cat people are more content with a simple life, and dog people are more status-striving. There's a third one that might be reduced somehow to one or both of the other two: cat people are more sensitive to holding things sacred, taboo, and pure, while dog people are more permissive and profaning.

Again, that'll take an extended series of comparisons to provide all the rich convincing detail, but for now we'll run a fairly controlled experiment. We want to make sure that the two groups we're comparing are very similar in most of the unimportant ways -- age, race, class, sex, etc. -- and we'd like for there to be a fairly honest signal of how cat-loving or dog-loving they are, not just asking them if they like one or the other.

The clothing retailers Urban Outfitters and American Apparel target the same demographic group -- young, white, educated, urban, liberal, more female than male. And they both have pet sections on their websites: here is UO's "pet shop," and here is AA's pets section. Presumably the selection reflects what the audience is into, or else they'd be losing money stocking the wrong stuff.

Every one of the 66 items at American Apparel are not only dog-related -- they are for the dogs themselves to wear. At Urban Outfitters, there's 1 item that is both cat and dog-themed, 2 that are neither, and of the remaining 60, 45 of them (or 75%) are cat-themed and 15 dog-themed. Only a few of the cat items are meant to be used by the cat (pet houses), while a good chunk of the dog items are meant for the dog itself (cape, bowtie, etc.).

Doggie sweatsuit from AA

Ceramic cat knob from UO

So, cat people do not treat their pets as pawns in a status contest played by the owner, while one of the primary motivations of dog people is to use their pet as a fashion accessory to broadcast the owner's lifestyle to their rivals in the status competition. It doesn't matter which arena they're battling it out in; that will only affect which choice of dog they bring along to duel it out with the other dog owners. E.g., pitbull for ghetto thugs, Pomeranian for childless yuppie women, and so on.

Cat-related merchandise is not foisted on the pet, but worn by the owner to signal the tribe they belong to (cat lovers). It is not part of a status contest because the t-shirt, sweater, etc., does not show the owner's specific cat -- like "Drop what you're doing, world, and look at my awesomely unique pet." It's either a generic cat or a well known cat, neither of which belong to the owner, and hence not one that the wearer is trying to show off or brag about in public.

Even though the two retailers cater to folks in the same demographic groups, there are other sets of striking differences between the typical shopper at each store. This tells us what types of people are likely to be single-mindedly dog-loving vs. mostly cat-loving.

Comparing the target audience at Urban Outfitters (first) and American Apparel (second), on the following dimensions, we find...

Heterosexuals (mostly) vs. queers, boy-phobic straight girls, and outright fag hags

Relatively muted gays vs. flamingly annoying gays

Vintage vs. trendy

Traditional vs. progressive

Retains classics vs. dumps iPod every couple years

Late '60s, '70s, '80s, early '90s vs. "That is so five minutes ago"

Lived-in vs. shining and new

Rustic, Mediterranean vs. Scandinavian modern

Geometric patterns vs. solid planes

Rock vs. techno

Arts and crafts / DIY vs. mass production

Nonchalant, mysterious vs. attention-whoring, obvious

Basic sense of shame vs. rationalizes shamefulness

Holds things sacred vs. whatever, get rid of it, it doesn't matter

Amateur photographer vs. selfie-snapper

Record player vs. iPhone as dream gift

Transparent irony (affectionate) vs. campy / blackface

No gym, no yoga, no jogging vs. owns array of specialized work-out gear

Girls: lets eyebrows and bush grow semi-naturally vs. plucked and napalmed (despite ad campaigns)

Guys: no manscaping, may have beard vs. trims pubes, shaves chest

And so on...

Some of these themes will keep coming up, but they won't be so black-and-white. It's good to start with a rather extreme group comparison since that lays out the rough outlines, with finer details to be left filled in by more realistic comparisons.


  1. I'm a dog person. I can tell you're a cat person.

    Are you sure about this? I looked at the American Apparel website. I would never get any of those dog breeds, and I've never bought clothes for my dog.

  2. You wouldn't, but look at what fraction of dog owners treat their pets that way. Whereas no cat owners would.

    Dog owners are more variable than cat owners, but that's because there are so many wackos who are into dogs, along with the normal people.

  3. Cats are the tranny n' spinster pet.

    This may prove a portion of small breed dog owners are weird enough to dress their pet up, but it doesn't prove cat owners are any less weird.

  4. Of course it does. The demeaning behavior is not limited to small breed dogs. You can easily find pictures of larger dogs wearing ridiculous clothing.

    Cat owners don't attempt humiliating behavior like that -- check pictures. Probably 1/1000 as common, maybe less, and it's only on for a minute or so while the owner takes a picture and before the cat begins to shred the degrading thing to pieces to avenge the insult to its honor.

    Women looking for surrogate children turn to dogs (and gay bffs), not cats, since they'll let you baby and nurture them, whereas a cat won't.

  5. Do you shop at both these stores? How do you know this about the shoppers?

  6. To me the salient difference between the species is that you take dogs hunting (all the ones my family have owned are bird-dogs). I'd expect there's a big urban vs rural difference in cat vs dog owners (possibly why cats are so big on the internet even though more Americans own dogs), cats can stay indoors but a dog needs space to run around in. It's stereotypical for a country/bluegrass song to feature a dog, cats not so much.

  7. TGGP,
    I grew up with my step-dad having a number of hunting dogs, too, but they were seen more as utilitarian rather than as pets. They were even kept at the back of the yard in a large pen that itself contained dog houses.

    Agnostic's take in both posts strikes me as largely correct, though it may sound a bit harsh. Perhaps the more normal dog people see the dog more as an extension of themselves, and may get picky about the breed as a result, but respect the dignity of the animal enough to not dress it up, etc.

    We are cat people. I have so many young children, so I wasn't as excited as my husband and kids about becoming cat owners. Ironically (or not), when it's 3 a.m. and our cat has erroneously not been let outside for the night and wants to be socialized with and watched while she eats (not kidding), it's me she wakes up :/ and not my 12-year-old daughter who is obsessed with her and all things cat.

    Thinking about pet dogs in my and my cousins' families, they were almost always brought in by a teen-aged or young man who wanted a "tough" dog, but would sell it as "sweet" to the family. My mother's personality changed in middle age and she became more of a dog person briefly, and spent some $$$ on one; a breed that my aunt for years said looked like the canine version of my mom. The care was too much and she's back to cat, though she doesn't love it as much as that Jack Russell terrier.
    I have a picture of her, one of my favorites, in her late teens early twenties hugging and loving her cat in a way that only girls do.

  8. 12 years old may not be mature enough for the cat to see her as an equal, no matter how much she loves cats.

    They make you wait for their respect, but the reward is worth it when they let you get close. Nothing that dogs do is as calming and bond-building as a cat's purring, paw kneading, and head tucking.

  9. theo the kraut12/13/13, 5:41 PM

    > The demeaning behavior is not limited to small
    > breed dogs.


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