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How Important Is Your Dog in Your Family and Social Life?

A new survey shows how important dogs have become in our personal lives.

Branislav Nenin/Shutterstock
Source: Branislav Nenin/Shutterstock

Our society is changing, and perhaps because our extended families no longer live so close to us, or perhaps because urban lifestyles or work demands interfere with our ability to establish close social connections, it appears that our pet dogs have begun to fill the emotional voids that modern living has left in our family and personal relationships. There are already lots of data which show that dogs are thought of as family members (click here for more), and there are many instances in which we treat them socially much the way that we do other people (click here for more).

Now a new survey demonstrates just how connected to our social and family lives our pet dogs have become. The survey comes from Rover, the largest online network of dog sitters and dog walkers in the United States, with more than 100,000 members. In an Internet survey, Rover polled thousands of pet owners to determine their relationship to their dogs.

The findings are quite interesting.

  • Dogs seem to occupy a position which is clearly that of a family member and often a best friend. In this survey, almost all of the pet owners (94 percent) reported that their dogs are part of the family.
  • 79 percent said that they include their dogs in family moments, like holiday cards and vacations. Dogs are even included in some marriage proposals, and more than 1 in 4 dog owners have brought their pet with them on a date.
  • 54 percent of these dog people claim that they would consider ending a relationship if they thought that their dog didn't like their partner.
  • The emotional connection to a pet dog shows up not just in people's expressed emotions, but also in their actions; 65 percent of dog owners say that they take more photos of their dogs than of their friends or families, and 29 percent say that they post more pictures of their dogs on social media than of any other individual — including themselves.
  • 56 percent of dog owners say that they celebrate their dog's birthday, and 39 percent admit that they have bought something personalized for their dog.
  • The link between dogs and their owners is such that concerns and anxieties sometimes creep into the relationship — 82 percent of dog owners worry about their dog when they are away from home.
  • 47 percent of respondents admitted to leaving work sooner than they should in order to be with their dog or to let them out.
  • 37 percent of dog owners admit to being saddened when they have to leave their dog at home.
  • Nearly half (47 percent) admit that they find it emotionally more difficult to leave their dog for a week than to leave their human partner.
  • 88 percent of dog owners have done things to make sure their dog doesn't get lonely, from leaving the TV or the radio on to getting a second pet to keep their dog company.
  • Apparently all of this doesn't fully alleviate their anxieties: According to Google, nearly 3,000 people each month search for an answer to the question "Does my dog love me?"
  • On the flip side, 74 percent of these dog people say that they have used interactions with their own dog (or even watching videos of their dog) as a mood booster when they are having a rough day.
  • When it comes to social interactions, dogs are extremely important: 56 percent of dog people admit that when they come home, they say hello to their dog before they greet any other member of the family.
  • I was comforted to find that I was not alone in what I consider one of the pathological elements of my relationships with my own dogs: 51 percent of these dog people admit to singing to their dog, and 24 percent say they actually make up songs to sing to their dogs. I confess that I would have been in this group, despite the fact that I have a terrible singing voice, and that my wife has made it a condition of the continuation of our marriage that I should never sing in her presence.
  • Finally, there is a lifestyle perk associated with dog ownership: 69 percent of the respondents to this survey believe that owning a dog has increased their leisure-time physical activity. I certainly believe that I would not get half as much exercise were it not for my dogs.

In some respects, I saw the results of this survey confirmed just a couple of days ago. A TV news reporter was interviewing a family who had been rescued from flooding conditions not far from Montréal. The man was saying, "We lost the house, but at least our family was saved." His wife added, "Our whole family is safe — both of us, our three kids, and both dogs!"

Photo CC0 Public Domain
Source: Photo CC0 Public Domain

Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Gods, Ghosts and Black Dogs; The Wisdom of Dogs; Do Dogs Dream? Born to Bark; The Modern Dog; Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History; How Dogs Think; How To Speak Dog; Why We Love the Dogs We Do; What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs; Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies; Sleep Thieves; The Left-hander Syndrome

Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission

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