Many dog guardians would agree that they’re attached to their dogs and that their dogs are attached to them. However, many don’t realize just how unique and important that bond is.
Historically, “attachment bonding” has been most commonly referred to when describing the relationship between parent and child (Prato-Previde, Custance, Spiezio & Sabatini, 2003, p. 226-227). While human-human and human-dog attachments are not “necessarily parallel,” humans and dogs undoubtedly have a unique relationship as evident by the development of a similar bond (Crawford, Worsham & Swinehart, 2006, p. 98).
As discussed both in Prato-Previde et al. (2003) and in a previous blog post, four criteria must be met in order for an affectional bond to be considered an attachment bond. The child, or in this case, the dog, must: seek to maintain proximity/contact with their caregiver; experience distress when separated; experience comfort and security when in the presence of their caregiver; and gain confidence to engage with their environment when their caregiver is present. In various studies, dogs demonstrated variations of these behaviors in relation to their guardians, suggesting the existence of an attachment bond between dogs and their humans, or at the very least, a strong affectional bond (Prato-Previde et al., 2003, p. 251 ; Payne, Bennett, McGreevy, 2015).
The bond that exists between humans and dogs contributes to a number of benefits for both species. Most companion dogs do not face the hardships that free-ranging dogs do in that they are provided with food, shelter and veterinary care. During petting, both dogs and humans experience an increase in their oxytocin levels, which play a role in social bonding (Beetz, Uvnäs-Moberg, Julius & Kotrschal, 2012). Other benefits, which may be correlated to the release of oxytocin, include increased sociality, reduced blood pressure, decreased heart rate, reduced stress and feelings of depression and loneliness. (Beetz et al., 2012; Hall, Liu, Kertes & Wynne, 2016, p. 138; Crawford et al., 2006). Beetz et al. (2012) and Crawford et al. (2006) discuss these potential benefits at length. Children have also reported to feel an attachment to their pets and experience specific social and emotional benefits such as lower blood pressure and greater emotional stability (Hall et al., 2016, p. 138).
Realistically, there are bound to be some negative side effects to the human-dog relationship. Hall et al. (2016) discusses one major risk of relationships between children and dogs: dog bites (p. 183). Additionally, dog guardianship certainly requires both a financial and time commitment. In a study on dog ownership in Taiwan, behaviour “problems” were the leading cause of unsuccessful dog ownership, often resulting in abandonment (Weng, Kass, Hart & Chomel, 2006). Behavior concerns are quite common and, from personal experience, can put stress on the human-dog relationship.
I believe we should be using what we know about the human-dog bond to shape how we train our dogs, how to modify behavior concerns and also how we just generally interact with them. For example, understanding the human-dog bond may help us understand why certain behavior issues arise, like separation anxiety for example, and how we might work to address those issues.
An interesting new training approach is called “Bond-Based Choice Teaching”:
“The Bond-Based Approach is an entirely new philosophy based on social learning in which we build strong relationships with our dogs through bond-building exercises. Secure bonds enable dogs to learn quickly and willingly, resulting in more reliable and confident dogs and happier owners. Bond-Based Choice Teaching® is the methodology that put The Bond-Based Approach into action. It helps build great relationships based on mutual respect, trust, understanding and care.”
While research is necessary on the efficacy of “Bond-Based Choice Teaching,” I do believe that working to understand and to strengthen the bonds we have with our dogs will improve the lives of both ours and theirs.
Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H., & Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin. Frontiers in Psychology, 3. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00234
Crawford, E. K., Worsham, N. L., & Swinehart, E. R. (2006). Benefits derived from companion animals, and the use of the term “attachment.” Anthrozoös, 19(2), 98–112. https://doi.org/10.2752/089279306785593757
Hall, N. J., Liu, J., Kertes, D., & Wynne, C. D. L. (2016). Behavioral and Self-report Measures Influencing Children’s Reported Attachment to Their Dog. Anthrozoös, 29(1), 137–150. https://doi.org/10.1080/08927936.2015.1088683
Payne, E., Bennett, P. C., & McGreevy, P. D. (2015). Current perspectives on attachment and bonding in the dog–human dyad. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 8, 71–79. https://doi.org/10.2147/PRBM.S74972
Prato-Previde, E., Custance, D. M., Spiezio, C., & Sabatini, F. (2003). Is the Dog-Human Relationship an Attachment Bond? An Observational Study Using Ainsworth’s Strange Situation. Behaviour, 140(2), 225–254.
The Bond-Based Approach™. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2017, from https://bondbased.com/pages/frontpage
Weng, H.-Y., Kass, P. H., Hart, L. A., & Chomel, B. B. (2006). Risk factors for unsuccessful dog ownership: an epidemiologic study in Taiwan. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 77(1–2), 82–95. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.prevetmed.2006.06.004
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.