Saturday, February 18, 2012

Think your dog has best friends? Think again.

According to a Time magazine cover story about animal friendships, animals such as chimpanzees, dolphins and even horses form close friendships but dogs not so much. Before you start shouting, consider that the definition of friendship isn't just best buddies who seek out each other at the dog park. Animal friends, like close human friends, work at the relationship, which involves sharing over time, sacrificing and grieving. There are plenty of anecdotes about animal buddies, especially on YouTube, but not all the animals shown are friends and anecdotes don't make science.

In the article James Serpell, author and director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society, says that dogs may form "friendship-type relationships" with other dogs in the same household (not Miro and Alanis, though); but they don't form strong friendships any more than members of wolf packs do. Did your dog willingly share his dinner with you or another dog today? Or does he basically think you should share with him? And isn't that the way we like it, not just because we don't want to eat kibble or raw chicken necks?

The article's author Carl Zimmer writes, "Thanks to domestication, dogs have become capable of being sweet and loyal to humans, but it's likely that they treat us more as guardians than friends. Dogs are neither our best friends nor one another's--which is not to say they're not warm and wonderful company all the same."

For the purpose of scientific study, the definition of friendship has to be strict. The advantage is that these studies of friendship will underline what we animal bloggers already know about animal thinking and feeling. The fact that dogs don't form the same kinds of inter-and intra-species friendships as other animals also confirms what we know: dogs are in a class by themselves.


  1. Hmmmm interesting article summary. I can see his points but I do know that I can feel the kitties 1st and Violet will wait - some time patiently. I think she gives the cats right of way because I taught her that they were here first and she has to be nice to them.

    I didn't know horses needed companionship until I saw Seabisuit (just last week). I remembered the trainer gave him a goat and the goat didn't stay very long. haha but another horse and dog did.

    Oh and yes try the Canine Good Citizen again. It was very fun.

  2. Interesting article. Dogs are definitely in a class of their own!

  3. I like to think that my dogs consider me their "friend" as I much as I consider them mine! I do know that they missed me (as evidenced by their behavior) when I had to stay at my daughter's house for two months while recovering from breast cancer. We don't even have to talk about how much I missed THEM...

  4. That sounds like it might be right but..hmm, I'm not so sure. I thought about it, and how about when dogs wait for their person to get home and then they grieve when their owner dies. about the people who say that dogs only know about 100 or so words, I know that's not right, my dog has a huge vocabulary, just ask him, he'll tell you, hahahaha! xo

  5. Great post. I didn't know that about the friendships. Interesting.

    pawhugs, Max

  6. Very interesting piece. I will sat though that whatever my dog thinks, I know I consider Maxie one of my best friends!

  7. perhaps, it's not friendships they form with us and other dogs within the household. i feel they form a family bond with us. they don't choose us, like we don't choose our human family members. so we may not like each other all the time and argue, but we still have that family bond that i believe our dogs understand. great post!!

  8. We feel dogs do form friendships. Also that they can love as well!

    Happy Sunday
    Big Nose Pokes
    The Thugletsx

  9. Well I'm close to my sister but she is part of our pack, if one of our pack is ill I know and offer my closeness, so is that love in the human world, maybe:)
    Have a good week
    See Yea George xxx

  10. What a fascinating article. Thank you for sharing it with us!

  11. There's no doubt that dogs form bonds. Many have debated the love question because the answer depends on the definition. In the Time article, however, friendship is defined in a very specific way. I wouldn't be surprised if the author, Carl Zimmer, is working on a book on the topic that will tell us more.

  12. Katy doesn't let anyone near her food, but Bailey constantly lets her eat his and he isn't afraid of her, he steals her toys on a regular basis. Not sure how that fits the theory.

    Bailey showed signs of distress and upset when a dog he had been friends with got sick and passed away. Was it grief as we define it, I don't know. I do know he had to work through the process of believing she was really gone.