Why Do Dogs Bond With One Person?

Dogs have an instinct to bond with one person.
Dogs have an instinct to bond with one person. (Image: Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

It’s easy to take the canine-human dog bond for granted, but there are thousands of years of evolution and social engineering behind it. Every time your dog snuggles at your feet, he’s reacting to a deeply ingrained instinct. Dogs are social animals, but they typically gravitate toward one person more than others. This apparent favoritism is rooted in history.

Evolutionary Benefit

Man domesticated the wolf, which then evolved into the dog under our stewardship. Throughout a gradual process, wolves learned that by populating human settlements, they wouldn’t have to work as hard for their food. The less aggressive wolves adapted best, so over time, tameness toward humans became a common trait. This laid the groundwork for the unique bond humans and dogs share today.

Selective Breeding

Once man had domesticated the wolf, he selectively bred the resultant dogs to display certain qualities. Dogs who wandered off or easily were tempted away were no good, as man needed a partner, so only those dogs who displayed loyalty and developed strong bonds with their masters were used for breeding. Psychologist Dr. Stanley Coren put it best when he said, “We have bred dogs to revel in our presence.”

Dogs with Jobs

As the human-canine relationship evolved, we put dogs to use in various roles. Some, such as herding and guarding breeds, were bred to be protective over livestock. Others, such as guarding breeds were bred to protective over specific settlements. Sight hounds, however, were bred to work alongside a single person. Even today, sight hounds have a natural inclination to show loyalty to one person and are often aloof with strangers. The Afghan hound is a prime example of this, due to his history of working alone with singe hunters.

Free Lunches? No Such Thing

Many a sibling squabble has erupted over who Rex prefers, but the truth is, Rex is gravitating toward the most reliable resource. The person who feeds Rex is the one who Rex will bond with most because Rex has an instinct to ensure he gets fed. In the wild, Rex naturally would gravitate toward the alpha male in the pack. In the domestic context, the one who provides the food is the alpha.

Secure Base Effect

A study conducted at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria in June 2013 found that dogs have adapted to view humans as replacement parents. Experiments, in which dogs were required to perform a task to receive a treat, found that dogs were more likely to perform well in the presence of their caregiver.

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