From what seems like the dawn of time, dogs have been called “Man’s Best Friend.” Humans love dogs! We tell heart-wrenching news stories about dogs who accidentally run a half marathon alongside a new human friend, and write tear-jerking films about our relationships with them like Marley and Me, Beethoven or Air Bud. In fact, the way we feel about our dogs is so much more than just man and pet. This made me wonder...is the relationship between a human and their pet dog really as special as we think? Or, is it just doggy-nature to follow people around?
Dogs like living in groups
Because dogs share ancestry with wolves, and wolves are commonly known as pack animals, many people think that dogs, too, prefer canine companionship. But, while dogs love companionship, they should not be mistaken for their distant wolf relatives. Analogies like the term “wolf pack” project the idea that coexisting wolves share a strong, family-like, bond with each other, but the bond would probably be better explained as similar to colleagues in a corporation. While they work together cooperatively to find food and shelter, they still compete with each other for dominance, which is pretty different from what we humans think of when we talk about the bond held between a human and a pet dog.
Do dogs like living with humans or do they just rely on them?
It’s no secret that dogs and their relatives need company. Dog relatives, like wolves, live in groups as a necessity to hunt down large prey, protect their young and care for each other. Life is much harder for a solitary dog than one with companions. While dogs seem like they should be pack animals, their reliance has turned more to humans than other dogs since they were domesticated hundreds of year ago. Since then, humans have made dramatic changes in the natural tendencies of dogs and most dogs today are social, friendly animals that rely on humans to shelter them, feed them and to keep them safe.
How does having a pet dog benefit humans?
While dogs definitely benefit from human companionship, humans also benefit from dog companionship. There are many examples of humans utilizing dogs not only as companions, but also as aides to people with disabilities. Some dogs are capable of warning humans of a seizure occurring or about to happen. While the ability of the dog to get help during its human’s seizure can be lifesaving, the companionship of the dog may also decrease the frequency and duration of seizures. Dogs can also be trained to become guide or service dogs that can assist people that are visually impaired.
While hundreds of years ago, dogs depended on group-living strategies within their own species for survival, their survival strategies evolved when humans began to keep dogs as house pets. While basic survival instinct often keeps dogs around their owners for regular food and shelter, both human and pet often form close friendships during their lifetimes. In fact, studies have shown that dog owners often live longer, happier lives due to the presence of a canine companion.
We might understand a dog's desire to hang out with humans, but dogs do things that are somewhat harder to understand as well. Read "Some Animals Eat Poo" for an example of something we don't have in common with dogs (thank goodness).