Are Dogs Monogamous?

By Ashley Tyler

You take the same route every morning when you walk your pup, and every morning he jumps at the fence separating him and the beautiful girl dog on the other side. You always joke that it's his girlfriend, but is she really? And is she the only dog catching his eye?

dogs in love
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Dirty Dog or Loyal Lover?

Dog with heart.
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While we would all like to believe our dogs are loyal lovers, the truth is — it's mostly up to you!

"Mating behavior of dogs is nearly exclusively controlled by man. Thus, for the most part there is no possibility for dogs to live in a long-term relationship with a sexual partner"

This explains how easily selective breeding is able to occur in domestic dogs regardless of breed and why there are no complaints from a stud with good qualities being mated with multiple females and vice-versa.

Dogs mating
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One study published in the International Journal of Zoology observed 33 free-ranging dogs (17 male and 16 female) in West Bengal, India and found proof of "monogamy, polygyny, promiscuity, and polyandry occur in free-ranging domestic dogs." Basically, dogs are about as fickle and different from each other as humans are.

Turns out, being slightly promiscuous is actually beneficial for female dogs for a few reasons including "confusing paternity and discouraging infanticide, providing high-quality genes through enhanced male-male and sperm competition, and ensuring fertilization" (International Journal of Zoology).

What About Puppy Love?

selfie dogs
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Just because your pup will gladly mate with just about anything that passes, they are capable of treating some instances as more than just a fling.

Dr. Marc Bekoff, a researcher and former professor of animal behavior, cognitive ethology, and behavioral ecology at University of Colorado, Boulder was asked by Broadly whether he thought dogs could fall in love he said:

"Of course. If you define love as a long-term commitment — meaning they seek one another out when they're apart, they're happy when they're reunited, they protect one another, they feed one another, they raise their children together — then of course non-human animals love each other."

couple of dogs
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For dogs, love is the easy part. "Dogs aren't afraid to sniff each other," Bekoff explains. "They express themselves clearly, and they're not afraid to say, 'I love you.'"

Oxytocin may be to the one to thank for this. We already know this same exchange happens between a mother and her newborn baby and even from owner to dog and is "the basis for the formation of any stable social bond" but now a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides evidence of an oxytocin exchange that occurs from dog to dog. This means, given the opportunity, your dog can go on to fulfill their puppyhood fantasies and live happily ever after with the pooch of their dreams.

Does It Run In The Family?

Wolves in Snow  (Canus Lupus)
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While the research says only 3-5 percent of mammals are considered monogamous, there are other studies proving 100 percent monogamy in coyotes and wolves, both of whom "share the same number of chromosomes" with domestic dogs.

Research conducted by world renowned wolf expert David Mech shattered the alpha-male theory and proved that wolves actually operate more like a family unit run by an alpha couple. Each assumed a portion of the responsibility with the females being "protecting and taking care of the pups" while the male took care of "hunting and providing food." Talk about gender roles!

Pack of gray wolves
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Coyotes are no different. Stan Gehrt, a wildlife ecologist at Ohio State University, and his team genetically sampled 236 wild coyotes over a six year period and found "no evidence of polygamy — of the animals having more than one mate — nor of one mate ever leaving another while the other was still alive."

"We've been able to follow some of these alpha pairs through time, and we've had some of them stay together for up to 10 years," Gehrt said. "They separate only upon the death of one of the individuals, so they truly adhere to that philosophy, 'Till death do us part.' "

This is probably done for survival purposes because of the "high demands that pups place on their parents" since they will each "require an extended period of training to learn to hunt and survive on their own," explains a study published in the International Journal of Zoology.

And even though they're closely related to wolves and coyotes,"it is estimated that dogs separated from the wolves about 100,000 years ago."

Conclusion?

Your dog is just about as clueless when it comes to mating, monogamy and love as you are. So next time you dish about your latest dating conundrum to your pup, don't expect any sound advice in return.