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What Does This Dog Look Like?

Help us resolve a family conflict
By Karen B. London PhD, July 2018, Updated June 2021

My sister-in-law’s Facebook post seemed uncontroversial: “Meet Gryffin, aka Finn, the newest member of our family. We had to tie in our favorite things—Harry Potter and Star Wars.”

After seeing the photos of Finn with the post, we all oohed and aahed and said those highly intellectual things one says in such situations: “Oh my, just LOOK at that face!” and “He’s so adorable!” Everybody agreed that he is a lovely little dog and that we are very lucky that we will get to meet him later in July when we vacation together.

Then, the disagreements began. There was conflict about what kind of animal he most resembled. Some of us saw fox in this little dog’s face, some saw a racoon, and others felt strongly that Finn was clearly channeling the face of a red panda. When we reported our controversy to my sister-in-law, she said that those are the same three animals that people repeatedly say he looks like. The controversy clearly extends beyond our household.

Nobody disputes that he is a dog, and to suggest otherwise is nonsensical. However, I often see signs of other species in dogs. Beyond the obvious close relatives of dogs (foxes, coyotes and wolves), it is sea lions and bears that are most often brought to mind by dogs.

What animal do you think Finn most resembles—fox, red panda, raccoon, something else—or do you see only dog in this little canine?

Photos by Hannah Hofstetter, courtesy the author

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life