Everyone knows that dogs are some of the most loyal animals to exist. These pets adore their owners just as much as we love them, but why are dogs so loyal? Is it environmental, genetic, or even our influence over them. Furthermore, what is the benefit of their species having such loyalty? Or perhaps it is just a stereotype?
We will be answering all these questions and more so you know everything regarding dogs and their loyalty. All the reasons we have are backed by science and researched thoroughly by behaviorists. Therefore you know you’re getting facts and evidence to support each reason for loyalty.
Why Are Dogs So Loyal?
Here are the top eight reasons backed by science to explain dog loyalty.
1. You Sustain Them (And They Know)
We act as our dogs’ providers in pretty much every area. Domesticated dogs rely on us and cannot provide for themselves in the same way their ancestors, gray wolves, can. Not only do we provide them with food and water, their necessities, but we enrich their lives in more ways than one. We give them treats, we explore and adventure with them, we play and even sleep with them. Dogs are aware that we bring them these provisions. Dogs get excited during meal time because they know we bring them their food, this is why they can often strive for our attention more during this period. This displays their awareness of us and the provisions that we give them. But how does this induce loyalty?
Dogs will have loyalty to us to remain in a positive light in our eyes. They do so so that the provisions and enrichment we give them are not taken away. Furthermore, dogs will display loyalty to us to encourage us giving them these provisions and even increasing them. We have all heard of a dog display ‘cupboard love’ a phrase to explain affection used to try to encourage the gift of food. Well, this can be the same technique but used over a longer period of time. Sure, strangers may give our dogs treats, but we have reliably fed them for years, therefore their loyalty lies with us.
2. They Consider You Their Family
Many people believe that dogs see us a pack, this is in fact false. Dogs actually see us as more of a family. In the same way that wolves see each other as a family, with each wolf relying on one another, so do our canine chums with us. As with humans and their family members, we usually hold a sense of loyalty towards one another. You could be having an argument with your sibling, but if someone else were to hurt them, your loyalty would quickly lie with them. This is exactly the same as with dogs. Day in day out bonds have been built over time and with repetitive shows of affection and love, trust has been formed. This has developed into loyalty.
They feel the bond between you two is mutual, and in the same way you protect them from the terrifying postman or viscous fireworks, they will guard you from the delivery man. Jokes aside, because of the care you provide them, they aim to do the same for you. They show their loyalty in their own way through affection, protection, and empathy. From just being with them and loving them, dogs will develop loyalty towards you and other members of your household.
3. Your Dog Has Formed a Friendship With You
Beyond the family bond you two share, like humans, dogs will have preferences over one person to another. This is because of friendships being formed between dogs and humans. Although, dogs do form friendships and loyalty towards one another too! This is because dogs have their own personalities as we do and certain complementary traits will form stronger bonds. Dogs that are more affectionate and enjoy cuddling may form stronger bonds with quieter individuals who enjoy spending more time at home. Similarly, playful dogs that enjoy long walks and exploring may form a closer friendship with a human that loves adventures and long play sessions.
Complementary personalities are what form stronger bonds and friendships between dogs and humans, but they are not the only influential elements. Stronger friendships can be formed through patience or more time spent together as well. As trust is formed and comfort is gained from your dog towards you, loyalty will develop alongside this. These friendships can occur within a family or outside the family. It all depends on the amount of time your dog is spending with you and other people. For example, they may develop a sense of loyalty and friendship towards their dog walker or sitter.
A study by Trut et al. 2009 titled “Animal evolution during domestication: the domesticated fox as a model” looked into behavior changes in the domestic fox compared to the wild fox. This can be compared to the domestic dog and how their genetics have been influenced over time. They conclude that this forced evolution has altered the behavior and genetics of the domesticated dog to be more well-adapted towards human interaction. Although they concluded that the foxes had been selectively bred for tame-ability, dogs were selectively bred for years in similar terms, which allows us a good comparison. The study concludes by saying “the similar patterns of behavioral and morphological and physiological transformation in foxes, dogs, and other domesticates are suggested to be the result of selection for tameability.”
To simplify this studies findings and summarize it, the researchers have found evidence that domesticated animals are genetically influenced to be more tame. This means that many domesticated animals are more docile, trusting, and willing to form bonds with humans. Hence how their genetics influence their loyalty and how we played a large role in creating this behavior and trait.
5. We Share History
Since we were cavemen, there were canines. From enemies, we evolved to benefit one another, which is how selective breeding began. From dogs foraging around areas we have hunted in and vice versa, we did the same behavior in order to find easy food. As predators, we both hunted prey and actually did so in similar manners. We are both exhaustion hunters, targeting prey and using group strategies to isolate and bring that prey to collapse from exhaustion. This is combined with aggression and attack. Soon we began to hunt together, benefiting one another by having more ease to attack alongside more food to share. This progressed to the point where wolves lived alongside humans and began to form bonds. Humans encouraged breeding between certain types of individuals and helped to create breeds with different benefits to humans.
This is a long history that shows how we, as species, evolved together. We benefit from one another and have not only formed a symbiotic relationship as species, but friendships as individuals. Historical influence and years of bonds between our species helps our dogs to have developed a natural sense of loyalty towards us. This tied with selective breeding and traits meant to create the perfect household pet leads to our loyal pups.
6. They Need Us
Domestication has lead dogs to develop a reliance on our support and aid in survival and problem-solving. A study by Udell and Wynne (2008) was titled “A Review of Domestic Dogs’ (Canis Familiaris) Human-Like Behaviors: Or Why Behavior Analysts Should Stop Worrying and Love Their Dogs”. This study found that when proposed with a solvable problem, dogs would often look to their owners for aid. This reliance shows a sense of trust. Our dogs trust that we will help them when they need aid and provide for them, this is where they derive a sense of loyalty.
Furthermore, this human found that dogs are able to respond to conscious or subconscious human cues even at a very young age. This hints towards the idea that domesticated dogs have some instinctual behaviors to look for human influence in problem-solving or pursuing new obstacles. Over many years of these animals working alongside us, we have unconscious behaviors to trust in and benefit from one another. Therefore there is an underlying sense of loyalty with all humans from birth, although it can be strengthened with time and different individuals. Their natural hunting instincts have faded and so has their wariness of us as a species, they now rely on us and depend on our aid.
7. Dogs Have Empathy For Us
It is surprising to some, but those of us that have owned dogs before are not surprised by their empathy. When we are having a bad day, they are the first to comfort us and will alter their behavior accordingly. A pup that is usually hyperactive and will jump on you when you enter the door may appear calm and more gently affectionate once they realize your mood is low. Custance and Mayer (2012) conducted a study titled “Empathic-like responding by domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) to distress in humans: an exploratory study”. They researched dog’s empathy responses specifically towards human distress as opposed to other dogs.
They found that dogs will alter their behavior to accommodate the mood that the person appears to be in. What’s interesting as well is that they will do so with strangers. These dogs displayed outward hyperactive behavior and play upon meeting a new stranger in a good mood. However, if a stranger appeared to be crying, the dog would gently approach them, sniff, and nuzzle the stranger. This happened with multiple different dogs which demonstrates empathy in the species as a whole as opposed to the individual. It appears that dogs hold empathy towards all humans and this is where their loyalty may originate from.
8. They Are Actually Happy With Us
Handlin et al. (2015) published a study on “Short-Term Interaction between Dogs and Their Owners: Effects on Oxytocin, Cortisol, Insulin and Heart Rate—An Exploratory Study”. This study enables us to see how a dog’s Oxycontin levels are influenced based on short-term interactions between them and their owner. Oxytocin is known as the ‘happiness hormone’ and increases upon positive stimulus, interactions, or environmental factors. Handlin et al. (2015) found that positive hormone levels increased along with canine heart rates around three minutes after a short interaction with their owner. This can be concluded that dogs feel an immediate boost of happiness from seeing and interacting with us.
But how does this relate to loyalty? When someone brings you happiness, this helps to develop a positive bond and friendship with them. Friendship has a mutual feeling of trust between both individuals which leads to loyalty. Those a dog trusts and those that make them happy and usually the same person. If both of these factors are given by a single person, a dog will often develop a sense of loyalty towards them.
Loyal of Dogs – FAQs
To summarize and answer any remaining questions about dog loyalty, take a look at our informative FAQs below.
There are eight main reasons for dog loyalty that have been discovered so far:
1. You sustain them (and they know)
2. They consider you their family
3. Your dog has formed a friendship with you
5. We share history
6. They need us
7. Dogs have empathy for us
8. They are actually happy with us
However, there is always more to be learned with science, this includes dog behavior. There are probably many other reasons for their loyalty that we have yet to discover. With time, more research and behavior discoveries will occur that will allow behaviorists, and us, to understand our furry friends more.
The protective behavior of dogs over their owners may be summarized into a few main reasons: loyalty, concern for themselves and for their owner. Firstly, as a member of their family, their loyalty targets you above a stranger. Any signs of danger or worry, a loyal dog will immediately protect themselves and then you. With the trust and friendship they have developed with you, in the same way you wish to protect them because you love them, they wish to reciprocate it.
Another reason a dog may be protective of their owner is because of a mutual want for protection of themselves. By protecting you, they give you a reason to protect them, and this continues the already existing symbiotic relationship and maximizes it in a dangerous moment.
Overall, it is usually a combination of them both. They do care for you, however, they also worry about self-preservation.
Dogs are not more loyal than cats, it is simply that the behavior that the way cats and dogs display and demonstrate trust and loyalty is vastly different.
Canines will often display loyalty and a bond in a more recognizable manner to humans. Dogs will bound up to us when we get home to smother us with affection and excitement.
Cats may come up to you to greet you when you get home, however, if they don’t, it is not for a lack of loyalty. Cats will spend time around you in vulnerable positions, such as on their back or in sleep because they trust they are safe in your presence. They will also slowly blink at you, once again, to demonstrate trust. These two animals are both wonderful but vastly different. The way they express trust and loyalty cannot truly be compared.
There is not one reason why dogs love us. In the same way there is not one reason that we love them. We provide them with friendship, from play to cuddles, they have a best friend for life. We give them food, water, and care for them as they are our family.
Often, dogs are aware when we are trying to help them and remember this. They also may just love us because we are their family, we share homes and even beds with them, and as long as we treat them right, they are always our family. There is also the historical basis of dogs and humans having a deep history of benefits from one another. The answer is too complex to summarize easily.
This is a question many dog lovers may argue. Although some breeds are more loyal stereotypical than others, the true answer is not one dog breed, but dependent on the individual. Individuals are different based on their genetics, breed, age, sex, and even environmental influences. This is what forms the key personality of a dog. Of course, some breeds are renowned for their sense of loyalty such as the Akita, Beagle, or Boxer. But overall, you can come across loyal dogs of any breed, it all depends.
Dog loyalty has been known all the way through history to humans. Hopefully we have helped to explain a little of the science behind their endless devotion to us. Dogs are such wonderful creatures and deserve the best, and our understanding of their behavior is a good start.