When we think about dogs, many of us think about a loving, loyal companion--one that might even be curled up on the couch next to you as you read this (both of mine are). However, not all dogs are allowed on the couch, let alone considered companions.
Many dogs are still relied on for various purposes such as hunting, guarding, search and rescue, guiding the blind, sniffing out bombs, etc. (Mariti et al., 2013, p. 136). Interestingly, some research suggests that working dogs may have stronger attachments to their handlers than pet dogs do to their guardians. There are few possible reasons for this. For example, certain characteristics are common among working dogs, such as trainability, self-confidence and sociability. Dogs who have these characteristics may be more likely to form secure attachment bonds than dogs who lack, for example, self-confidence. Working dogs may also have stronger attachments to their guardians due to the level of training required.
However, some scientists believe some specific factors may be more likely to promote an “enhanced” human-dog relationship, such as regular exercise and positive, rather than aversive, training methods. Contrary to previous research, Mariti et al. (2013) found there were no statistically significant differences in comparision between working dogs and pet dogs in the attachments that they formed with their guardians. Thus, more research is required on the differences between these relationships and how might we, as dog guardians, learn from those differences.
Surprisingly to some, up to three quarters of the billion dogs on this earth aren’t under the care and management of humans at all but rather are free-ranging village and street dogs (Gorman, 2016). One heartwarming campaign worked to raise awareness of these dogs, namely the thousands of street dogs in Chile.
While it is often assumed these dogs are “strays” or lost pets, most of them are “superbly adapted scavengers” with rich social lives that don’t necessarily include humans (Gorman, 2016). Despite not being “owned” by a human, these dogs have been observed to establish connections with humans on their own terms, resulting in varied human-dog relationships in these villages.
“Some live completely on their own at dumps. Some are neighborhood dogs, recognized and perhaps given handouts by people who live in certain areas. Others may feed and breed on their own, but spend nights at the homes of people. Sometimes they are adopted by people. But really, Dr. Coppinger says, it is the dogs who adopt humans” (Garmon, 2013).
Contradictory to common belief, these wild dogs do not become wolves and have very different development and reproductive behaviors. Studying free-ranging dogs has and will continue to provide some interesting insight into the behavior of pet dogs.
As for the dogs who do have their food served to them by their humans in a silver bowl, many of them are considered to be children (Blouin, 2015). This is evident in how similar the attachment bonds are that occur between caregiver and child and guardian and dog. Some guardians believe in the unique value in their relationships with their dogs, cultivating an “intense emotional attachment” that competes with that of their human relationships (Blouin, 2015, p. 282). One recently published study by Cassels, White, Gee & Hughes (2017) found that children feel less satisfaction and more conflict with their siblings than with their pets. However, not all human-dog relationships are warm and fuzzy, and issues like the dog meat trade, dog fighting and puppy mills need to be addressed.
Some dogs sleep in cages, some in our beds, some under the stars. Examining the information we have about the present types of complex human-dog relationships can help us dictate how to shape our relationships with them in the future. By deciding what role we play in the lives of dogs, we can determine what role they play in ours.
Tell us in the comments below what type of relationship you share with your dog. Bonus points if you share a picture!
Blouin, D. D. (2013). Are Dogs Children, Companions, or Just Animals? Understanding Variations in People’s Orientations toward Animals. Anthrozoös, 26(2), 279–294. https://doi.org/10.2752/175303713X13636846944402
Cassels, M. T., White, N., Gee, N., & Hughes, C. (2017). One of the family? Measuring young adolescents’ relationships with pets and siblings. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 49, 12–20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2017.01.003
Gorman, J. (2016, April 18). The World Is Full of Dogs Without Collars. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/19/science/the-world-is-full-of-dogswithout-collars.html
Mariti, C., Ricci, E., Carlone, B., Moore, J. L., Sighieri, C., & Gazzano, A. (2013). Dog attachment to man: A comparison between pet and working dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 8(3), 135–145. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2012.05.006
Owner of Coexistence Consulting. Master of Science in Anthrozoology. Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Certified Fear Free Animal Trainer. Certificate in Applied Animal Behavior. Student in The Academy for Dog Trainers.