Do Pets See Us As Their Family?

January 30, 2014

By Linda Cole

When we accept the role of caring for a pet, we have the responsibility of providing for their needs. Many pet owners view their dog or cat as a valued member of their family, lovingly referring to them as their furry kids. I’m sure pets have no concept of what “family” or “parent” means, but in their eyes, our role is one of provider, protector and educator, which are the chief duties of a parent, even in the animal world.

As responsible pet owners, most of us worry about our pets when they’re home alone. We buy winter coats and boots to keep our dogs warm, provide pets with their own beds, give them toys and puzzle games, make sure they have a high quality food like CANIDAE, and include them in family activities. We share a bond – an emotional bond similar to that of parent and child.

Lisa Horn and a team of researchers conducted a study at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, to see how dogs reacted to their owners. According to the study, the way dogs interact with their owners is much the same as children interacting with their parents. Canines have done an amazing job of adapting to us over the centuries, and from a dog’s point of view, we are social partners, replacing other animals of their own species. If you’ve always felt your bond with your dog is special, you’re right. Dogs have a deep connection with owners they share a bond with, similar to the connection parents have with their young children.

Dogs were tested with their owners divided into three types: absent owners, silent owners and encouraging owners. During the experiment, the dogs were given time to play with interactive toys and given a food reward. When an owner was absent, the dog was less likely to work for treats, but when an encouraging owner or silent owner was present, the dogs were motivated to play with the toys, even though the silent owner stayed quiet and didn’t encourage play. When the owner was replaced with a stranger, the dogs had no interest in playing with toys, not even for treats.

The study found the dog/owner bond provides canines with what researchers call a “secure base effect.” It’s the same thing present in the parent/child bond. When interacting in an environment, small children look to their parents to give them confidence – a secure base. And that’s the same reason dogs look to their owner, for confidence and security, especially when they are in an unfamiliar environment or they aren’t sure what to do. We provide dogs with what they need, protect them and teach them how we want them to behave. The role of a parent is to nurture and be a base of support and comfort for children and pets as they interact in the world around them.

Cats weren’t included in the study, but as a multiple cat and dog owner, I have no doubt cats that have a strong bond with their owner see us as their “parent” as well. Felines may appear to be aloof and independent, but they require attention, have needs and love the person they have a bond with as much as dogs do. Felines just show it in different ways. You can’t force a cat or dog to cuddle with you on the couch. They stay because they want to be with you.

In 2009, David Blouin, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Indiana University South Bend, conducted interviews with dog owners and put them into three different categories according to what their attitudes about pet ownership was. Humanist have a close bond with their pet and highly value them, almost like a person. Protectionists were more likely to be vegetarians who hold animals in high regard, and not just as pets. Dominionists see animals as not as important as people, and separate. Blouin found that views toward pets were formed from personal experience, demographics, family structure and culture. People who live in the country are more apt to have pets that live outside, and empty-nesters are more likely to have a close attachment to their pets.

The bond we share with pets is an emotional connection of trust and respect. The love and support we give to a pet gives him comfort and confidence to interact in our world. And in our pets’ eyes, we are their parents because we keep them safe and make them feel secure.

Top photo by William McCamment
Middle photo by Andrew Magill
Bottom photo by bk2000

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  1. DMatsuura says:

    I’ll admit I one of those pet owners who doesn’t agree with the current PC philosphy of “Pet Parents”. Do I consider my pets family? Yes. Do I adore my pets? Yes. Do I enjoy spending time with them? Absolutely. Am I their parent? No I’m not. I prefer the term Caregiver because that’s what we really are when it comes down to it. Diane @ CANIDAE