Dating is hard. Whether you are 28 or 58, everyone has a dating horror story these days. The latest romance scam that seems to be doing the rounds is “dogfishing,” an online dating phenomenon where people on apps pose with pictures of cute dogs, only for potential partners to discover that these dogs have been borrowed and used as a prop for their photo. But why are people doing it?

Pretending you own a dog when you don’t doesn’t seem like a huge deception on the part of the puppy-poser, but is the ruse as innocuous as it seems? Simply put, many people love dogs and it’s an easy point of connection. It may make men in particular seem like they have a softer, more nurturing side. In essence, a cynical move designed to lure in women who are looking for a man who is comfortable expressing his feelings.

The problem begins, of course, on the first date, when the person finds out they’ve been dogfished. “Hey, what’s the name of your adorable puppy?” “Oh he isn’t mine, he belongs to my sister.” The dogfisher is trying to start a relationship off on a lie, which is never a good sign.

Can I pet your dog?

As crazy at it may sound, you might consider confirming that the dog featured in the profile picture actually belongs to them before the first date. (You’ve driven us to this, dogfishers.) If they reveal that they borrowed the pooch for a photo opportunity, it might be time to move along to somebody else.

As with anyone you meet online, be sure you know who you are actually dealing with before you meet anyone in person. Before there was dogfishing, there was catfishing. And that’s much scarier.

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