How Do Dogs Choose Friends?

While I only have one dog of my own, I dream the day when I live with a group of adorable pups that hang out and play together. When I see dogs walking in packs with their owners, I can't help but imagine them all snuggling up together like the big, happy family they are. We hear so many stories about how dogs can form strong bonds with one another, and we see plenty of examples of these bonds out in the world. We also know that dogs often grieve for a lost family member, but do their relationships extend to actual friendship?

We took a look at some of the science, as well as some of the observations, about dog behavior to answer one of our most pressing questions about dogs and their relationships to one another.

Can dogs make friends? Yes, they can, and that's one major thing that differentiates them from wolves.

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For a log time, scientists believed that dogs couldn't possibly make friends, despite plenty of anecdotal evidence. However, those studies were largely based on wolves. Though they are pack animals, wolves' relationships have been observed as more of an "uneasy alliance" rather than feelings of friendship.

Now, a growing number of people, including psychologist Stanley Coren, who specializes in animal psychology, believe that dogs may have more advanced social skills than their wild cousins. Although the evidence remains largely based on observations, it seems like dogs do indeed choose best friends sometimes, be they other dogs, other animals, or humans.

Stanley argues that the fact that humans have domesticated and socialized dogs may have given them more capacity for friendship as well.

A dogs behavior can totally change when they're with their best friend.

One dog mom and dog trainer for VetStreet, Mikkel Becker, was the proud human to two pugs. When she and her significant other broke up, they each took one pug with them. But the BFFs simply couldn't be away from one another.

Mikkel describes, "Each of the pugs displayed their stress in manners that were distinct from their norms, with Willy becoming sullen and withdrawn and Bruce being overly anxious and unable to settle when I visited him. The few months apart were difficult for both dogs, and even though other canine friendships were struck, no other dogs seemed to fill the void."

Pugs Having Fun in the Sun
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Eventually, the couple decided to reunite the pups, and the change was nearly instantaneous. Mikkel recalled, "Since being reunited, the Pugs have not left one another's sides and take on life as if it's a team effort." If that kind of drastic, and all too familiar, change in mood when two best friends see each other again isn't signs that dogs can feel deeply, it's hard to know what is.

And dogs don't just make friends with other dogs. They can also befriend humans, cats, and other animals.

While some conventional wisdom suggests that dogs and cats are always at odds, that isn't necessarily the case. Plenty of cats and dogs live with one another just fine. And some become fast friends. Take the example of Beatrix and Midge, who have been the best of friends since day one.

See? Animals of different species can become friends. And for dogs, it doesn't necessarily stop with cats. Dogs have been known to hang out with even wilder creatures. Like raccoons.

According to scientists, animals are most likely to form cross-species bonds when they are very young, because we're all a little more open to unusual things when we're young. However, it's not just about age. Other factors play into how dogs and other animals choose their best friend. Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, explained, "I think the choices animals make in cross-species relationships are the same as they'd make in same-species relationships. Some dogs don't like every other dog. Animals are very selective about the other individuals who they let into their lives." And once they've selected a BFF, not even oceans can separate them. Just look at this incredible friendship between a Labrador retriever and a dolphin in Ireland.

It's too cute seeing the way that dog rushes down the peer to hang out with its buddy. If that isn't true friendship, we don't know what is.

If you want your dog to make a best friend, there are a few steps to keep in mind.

Best Friends
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Not all dogs have best friends, and maybe not all of them will be capable of making them. However, if you love the idea of your pup having a companion, or you're bringing home a new pet, and you want the two to get along, there are a few steps you can take to ensure a happy meeting.

  • Make sure your dog meets its new friend in neutral territory. If your pup meets a new human or animal on its turf, it might feel protective.
  • Keep your posture calm and the leash loose. You don't want to add tension to the encounter.
  • Take things slow, and watch for any signs that your dog is uncomfortable. If your dog seems tense or aggressive, then pull it away.
  • When introducing your dog to a cat, do so slowly. Start by giving the animals only a glimpse of each other, through a baby gate. Slowly move into an interaction, but only go as quickly as your dog allows.
  • Use treats during the interaction to show your dog that interacting is fun.

Before you know it, you may have a dynamic duo of inseparable buddies on your hands. And if you don't, try not to fret. Not all dogs are cut out to make friends. And besides, you can always be confident that no matter what, you're number one in your pup's heart.