The Dog Days of Summer: Bonding with Humans

Adapted from page 141 of The Dog:

The dog–human attachment relationship is bidirectional: Dogs tend to show emotional and behavioral signs of attachment toward humans, and in parallel humans readily perceive this relationship as attachment entailing the subjective impression of psychological connectedness. Individualized attachment to a human caregiver develops throughout the life of a dog and, unless drastic changes in the dogs’ social relationships happen, the adult dog’s attachment toward its owners is fairly stable over long periods of time.

Importantly, however, dogs do not need to be acquired in early puppyhood for an attachment to develop and even breaking the attachment relationship does not impair most dogs’ ability to form new attachment relationships later in life. Adult dogs from other families or from shelters may also be able to establish strong attachment to their new human caregiver. Such flexibility of establishing new attachment relationships even at a late age is unique to domestic dogs.

Although there is some disagreement over the evolutionary origin of dogs’ infant-like attachment behavior, domestication has probably contributed to the emergence of this social skill. Much of the recent scientific debate is about the relative contribution of domestication (genetic predispositions) and social experiences during life (socialization) to the phenomenon. Comparative  investigations of extensively socialized wolves and dogs indicate that, despite much experience with humans, the members of the former species do not develop doglike attachment behavior toward their caregiver. Thus, the domestic dog is not a tamed wolf; multifunctional psychological relationships do exist between people and dogs.

The infant-like attachment that bonds the dog to its human caregivers is apparently lacking in wolves and thus may reflect dogs’ evolutionary adaptation to the human social environment. Photo credit: DGLimages, Shutterstock

In dogs, patterns of attachment toward humans can be observed as early as 16 weeks of age, and dog puppies show very similar behavioral patterns as those described in adult dogs. Attachment behavior in dogs may be affected by experience during development, and also by the owner’s personality. Dogs showing separation-related behavior problems are more likely to belong to owners who would also describe themselves as being insecurely attached.

The Dog: A Natural History
By Ádám Miklósi

As one of the oldest domesticated species, selectively bred over millennia to possess specific behaviors and physical characteristics, the dog enjoys a unique relationship with humans. More than any other animal, dogs are attuned to human behavior and emotions, and accordingly play a range of roles in society, from police and military work to sensory and emotional support. Selective breeding has led to the development of more than three hundred breeds that, despite vast differences, still belong to a single species, Canis familiaris.

The Dog is an accessible, richly illustrated, and comprehensive introduction to the fascinating natural history and scientific understanding of this beloved species. Ádám Miklósi, a leading authority on dogs, provides an appealing overview of dogs’ evolution and ecology; anatomy and biology; behavior and society; sensing, thinking, and personality; and connections to humans.

Illustrated with some 250 color photographs, The Dog begins with an introductory overview followed by an exploration of the dog’s prehistoric origins, including current research about where and when canine domestication first began. The book proceeds to examine dogs’ biology and behavior, paying particular attention to the physiological and psychological aspects of the ways dogs see, hear, and smell, and how they communicate with other dogs and with humans. The book also describes how dogs learn about their physical and social environments and the ways they form attachments to humans. The book ends with a section showcasing a select number of dog breeds to illustrate their amazing physical variety.

Beautifully designed and filled with surprising facts and insights, this book will delight anyone who loves dogs and wants to understand them better.

This post is part of a series, explore additional posts here<< The Dog Days of Summer: Separation AnxietyThe Dog Days of Summer: Transferring Information >>