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Animal Behavior

More Truths About Dog People: New Survey Results

Our emotional bond to our pet dogs seems to be on the rise.

Mdk572 (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Source: Mdk572 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The psychological literature has been filled with analyses about the way in which our social lives and values have been changing in recent years.

For example, the so-called "millennial generation" is said to be dominated by individuals who are less likely to be homeowners than previous generations, less dedicated to their careers than to their personal comfort, and less concerned with traditional morals and ethics. On the other hand, they do seem likely to be dedicated pet owners. When it comes to their dogs, this generation is more likely to have a deep emotional connection with their pets, often buying them expensive gifts, or even determining the nature of where they choose to live based on concerns about their dog's comfort.

In a recent report, (which advertises itself as the largest network of dog sitters and dog walkers in North America), combined data from three years worth of surveys, involving more than 3000 dog owners, to get a picture of the nature of the relationship between dog owners and their canine partners.

The first thing that comes out of this effort is a confirmation of previous research suggesting that dogs have now been clearly elevated to the status of family members in North America. In this amalgamation of data, 94 percent of dog owners considered their pet to be "family." The fact that dogs are treated like family is consistent with a number of other reported behaviors. For example, 79 percent of dog people said that they include their dog in family moments (which would include holiday cards, vacations, and even marriage proposals). Over one-quarter of the dog owners have brought their pet along on a date. When it comes to photos, 65 percent say that they take more pictures of their dog than of their friends or of their significant other.

There appears to be a real psychological bond between dog people and their pets, and this shows up in the nature of their emotional connection. In this data set, 82 percent of dog owners admit to worrying about their dog when they are away from home. Some 37 percent admit to shedding a tear when they had to leave their dog behind at home, and 47 percent of those who are living with a significant other admit that they'd find it harder to leave their dog for a week then to leave their human partner. When it comes to shorter absences, 47 percent say that they frequently leave work sooner than they should to let their dog out. Furthermore, 88 percent of dog owners do things to make sure their dog doesn't get lonely when they are out of the house, including leaving the TV or radio on, and even in some cases, getting a second pet to provide their dog some company. All of this is consistent with the fact that across a variety of different surveys, the number one reason why Americans report getting a dog is the desire to enjoy its companionship.

Dogs also figure prominently in a dog person's social life. The report claims that 54 percent of dog people would consider ending a relationship if they thought that their dog didn't like their partner. It further notes that 56 percent of people say hello to their dog first when they come home, that is before greeting their partner or other family members. Of dog owners, 56 percent have celebrated their dog's birthday and 39 percent have bought something personalized for their dog.

I was surprised to learn that 51 percent of dog people sing to their dogs. I have always done so in the privacy of my own home, and I have considered it simply some kind of psychological aberration on my own part. It turns out that 24 percent of dog owners also make up their own personalized songs for their dogs.

Apparently dogs are not the only beneficiaries of this relationship because 74 percent of the dog owners have used their dog, or sometimes when their dog is not available they have used dog videos, like a psychological "pick-me-up" when they are feeling down or depressed on a given day. This is consistent with other suggestions saying that even the sight of the dog can make people smile.

The overall impression that this new assembly of data provides is that for dog people, their connection to their dogs is a significant relationship in their lives. It is on par, perhaps, with their relationship to friends, family, and romantic partners. An informal confirmation of this comes from Google's report of the most popular queries that the search engine receives. Apparently each and every month around 3000 people ask the search engine "Does my dog love me?"

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More from Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC
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