Can Dogs Feel Attachment?

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Introduction

Ever wondered how connected your dog is to you? It’s a no-brainer that most dog owners feel a strong sense of attachment to their fur-baby friends, but the nagging question is "do dogs feel the same way?" 

Some mutts go stir crazy when their pet mom or dad has left the house while others cruise around, not bothered by the absence. Working woofers live a more independent life, herding and guarding livestock while police dogs form strong relationships with their handlers for mutual protection. Humans and dogs have various styles of attachment - some healthy and others more dependent. This is a fascinating subject and one that needs to be explored.

Signs Your Dog is Overly-Attached

Dogs are not human, yet we form the most loving relationships with all shapes and sizes of canines. The sight of a fluffy Shih Tzu makes us weak at the knees while a rescue Retriever touches the heart as we say hello and bring them home.

Woofers, with their four legs and fuzzy faces, make us laugh and cry watching them play-bow with the other dogs at the park or shake and whimper when they go to the vet. Dogs bring out the best and the worst of human nature but ask for very little as they offer their paw and drop a toy at your feet. We’ve become super-attached to our doggy mates and it’s likely they have to us. Look how happy they seem when you pick up the leash and say it’s time for a walk.

So how do you know if your dog has bonded to you? They can’t speak the words, but their body language signals a tail wagging theme. When your woofer is happy, they’ll look you right in the eye and come to you for affection. Some folks say their dog smiles - and they’ve learned this human trait by observing how we do it. You’ll see their teeth exposed as they open their mouth wide, their lips curled up - grinning from ear to ear.

Our dogs copy a lot of things we do because they are attached and fascinated with their guardians. Kids are the same with their parents, as they mimic the way dad sighs when he’s watching the game. Dogs are deemed to be of a toddler age, so it’s no surprise they imitate everything we do. They have our facial expressions down to a fine art, as they wrinkle their brow and nose, staring intently at our facial moves.

Watch how they avert your eyes if they’ve been caught doing something naughty, just the way a little kid would. These adorable moments are what makes us love them so much. Like kids, our mesmerized mutts will come running if they're frightened by the neighbor’s woofing dog. They look to us as their protectors, the same way children do.

There is the other kind of pup who gets a little too close and can’t bear it when you’re suddenly gone. They are clingy and whine a lot when you pick up the keys, ready to go to work. They might be shelter dogs that were abused or neglected, now living in the fear their new owners will reject them.

Some dogs get hyper-attached to one person only. This can be one of the family members or their owner who lives alone. This poor pup suffers terribly when their pet mom or dad leave the house. They pant and pace around the house, pooping or urinating on the floor. They could go even further and damage personal property. If they are howling and barking, the neighbors are probably going to complain. A needy pooch will need a ton of help with their separation anxiety.

Body Language

Here are signs your dog is happily attached:
  • Staring
  • Wag tail
  • Furrowed brow
  • Paw raised
  • Nose wrinkled
  • Play bowing

Other Signs

Signs your dog may be clingy are:
  • Hating Being Alone
  • Growling When People Approach Owner
  • Urinating on the Floor
  • Separation Anxiety
  • Howling and barking
  • Destructive Behavior

History of Dogs Being Attached to Humans

It’s often difficult to fathom that a Chihuahua or Old English sheepdog evolved from a wolf. But DNA and genetic code say it’s black and white. Dogs have a grey wolf ancestor now thought to be extinct, which has made it a bit tricky for archeologists to pin down the exact way our independently wild wolves allowed humans to tame them.

It makes sense to assume it was a matter of survival and just as street dogs hang around human areas so they can find food, its likely wolves were creative enough to act nicely around primeval man so they could eat. There’s a lot of debate in regard to who made the first move, but in the end, the union gave us the best pals.

Mankind took a real shine to wolves, who were great hunters, making the alliance profitable for both sides. Evolution can be a long-winded affair, but the switch from howling wolf to barking dog was relatively quick. Wolf-dogs associating with Ice Age humans began interbreeding.

If it wasn’t unusual mutations arising from breeding close lineage - a theory put forward by the author of “How the Dog became the Wolf: From Wolves to Best Friends,” - then it could have been man's selective breeding that created different looking pups.

This version was studied by Russian researchers who bred generations of foxes for over fifty years to come up with fox babies that whined, whimpered like puppies and had no problem being close to humans. These stories were featured on Institute for Creation Research.

Looks like we bred the close attachment dogs have to us and, over time, the relationship is evolving in an inspiring way. As we learn more about our responsive pups, they return the favor and show us their emotions and abilities. There are pigs, cow’s sheep and cats that have been domesticated and show the same kind of attachment we see in our dogs.

Science of Dogs Feeling Attachment

A study by a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Portsmouth reveals our wolf-dogs are consciously trying to talk to us with facial expressions. According to “The Guardian,” dogs were videotaped as people faced a pooch or purposely turned away. Looking back at the tapes, the researchers spotted pups using facial movements when people stared right at them.

Unfortunately our adoring pups have picked up some negative human traits like co-dependency. These are people so intertwined with each other the word space is a dirty word. Needy humans may inspire this in our darling dogs, making them a mirror of their guardian’s neurosis.

Dogs are entrenched in a human world and living in close quarters with nowhere to escape. They look to their owners for reassurance and guidance, but if there are issues in the home, the family woofer will be pulled in - whether they like it or not. This is the same way kids act out when parents argue (or worse). If you think of your Dachshund or Newfoundland as an impressionable child, you’ll see they are watching your every move.

The shelters are spilling over with doggies that were surplus to requirement or trapped in an abusive home. These beautiful creatures are often the first to emulate the Velcro dog syndrome. The chord can be severed with kindness and training.

Training Your Dog to Be Less Attached

Have you ever been to a friend’s house whose sticky mutt growls and snaps when you try to get close to your friend? If they are a wee Chihuahua, the owner might say it’s cute and they care - but imagine an Irish wolfhound in your path as you try to hello-hug your friend.

Overly attached dogs cause major issues in a home, as they alienate family members and stop the locals from coming in for a coffee. The good news is their bad behavior can be altered with the right training and co-operation of the dog owner.

A dog attached to one person gets stressed out when they are alone or with anyone who’s not their owner. You’ve heard the term “they are a one person dog” and believe it or not, there are dog breeds that connect with one person more than others. Chow Chow, German Shepherd (possibly why they make great police dogs working with one handler), Australian cattle dogs and Akita (remember the story of Hachiko, the one-person dog who waited for his passed owner every day at the train station).

A dog stuck in a co-dependency groove is anxious, so if there are other people in the home, ask them to feed, walk, and play with your super-glued pup to help them become more independent.

Tough as it may sound, you need to ignore your Maltese when they constantly seek affection. If they sleep on your bed, it’s time to make a bed on the floor and if they follow you around the house, tell them to “STAY,” in one place while you go somewhere else. It’s all about putting distance between you and your frantic pup by changing the triggers. Clingy dogs watch to see what you will do next.

Your heartstrings are likely to be pulled when they seem sad and lost, but it’s a better deal for your dog to be their own mutt, rather than a shadow of their guardian.

Create a “just for me,” doggy space in the home and fill it with toys, a cozy, comfy bed, and Kong-style treats. Encourage your pup to go there and hang out. Over time, the message will be clear and you’ll end up with a self-assured, happy dog!

How to React When You Dog is Too Attached:

  • Teach them to be independent.
  • Ignore them when they are clingy.
  • Get other family member's to interact with your pooch if they are hyper-attached.
  • Make a place they can call their own.
  • Recognize your super-attached pooch needs help.
  • Ask a trainers advice.
  • Read great articles about clingy, hyper-attached pooches.