Karen B. London
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Do Dogs Form Friendships?
Article in Time Magazine says no

Sometimes when you have a strong opinion about something and want to share your views, someone else expresses what you think so well that all you really want to say is, “Yeah! What she said!” I am currently having that experience. I just read Trisha McConnell’s blog responding to the new article in Time Magazine about the science of animal friendships, and I highly encourage you to take a look at her articulate reaction. (The original Time Magazine article is only available online to subscribers.)

In the article, writer Carl Zimmer makes some good points, but I believe he’s off the mark a bit on some others. On the plus side, he discusses research supporting the formation of friendship in a variety of species other than humans. On the downside, he asserts that scientists have only recently concluded that animals form friendships, which runs counter to the work of Barbara Smuts, Frans de Waal and Jane Goodall, to name a few of the people whose research provided substantial and well-accepted evidence of animal friendships decades ago.

Kudos to the author for pointing out that long term studies of animals are essential for understanding bonds between individuals and asserting that such studies are highly valuable. A thumbs up to Zimmer for understanding that all the anecdotes in the world can’t make up for the lack of research and hard data. It’s true that studies of friendship in the domestic dog are sorely lacking. However, I must insert a thumbs down here since a paucity of evidence because the phenomenon has not been investigated does not merit the article’s claim that most scientists think dogs “fall short of true friendship.”

I’m glad that Zimmer wrote this article so we can participate in the discussion about it. It’s a wake up call regarding the need for more research on social relationships in dogs AND the importance of scientists making themselves available and more easily accessible to people who write articles about science. (Zimmer has written on Facebook that he spoke to several scientists while researching this article, but he didn’t mention any whose work dealt with social relationships in dogs.)

I think there is ample reason to think that rigorous studies are likely to support the idea that dogs form true friendships, and I’d love to see good studies that address the question. What do you have to say about the topic of friendship in dogs?


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by Amy | February 13 2012 |

I 100% believe dogs form friendships! I have been lucky enough to have companion animals all my life. Currently, I have four dogs. The youngest two are from an entire litter and mama I rescued. The runt and the smallest boy had a special bond from day 1. I am very ill and on disability. This enabled me to be with the litter 24/7. In addition to the litter of four and their mama, Maggie; there were my parents three dogs (older chihuahua & minpin, young mini schnauzer. I also had my two dogs, Ella a mixed breed rescue and Wickett a Yorkie on 2 yrs old. I had ample evidence of all these dogs forming different relationships with each other and with me. I named them all of course, Mr. Darcy was the smallest boy and Nettle the runt girl. These two continued to have so much love for each other. They had a different relationship with the other litter mates. The bond was so strong that I decided to keep them both so they could always be together. We found good homes for the other two as well. Mr. Darcy & Nettle are over a year old now and they still groom each other, play together, snuggle up together just like when they were only weeks old. I love them so much and I'm so glad they are part of my family now. My sweet dogs help me deal with the chronic pain and give me a reason to get up every day. They are my furkids and I know for a fact that they form friendships, very loyal friendships!
Thanks for reading!

Submitted by Anonymous | June 12 2012 |

On walks dogs assess each newcomer immediately and form immediate, strong likes and dislikes indifferences. They need to decide quickly whether they want to mix or fight or play. Dogs are wysiwyg. They make snap judgements. There is no doubt that they sometimes form strong dislikes. That is more than obvious and observable. Why does one need scientific proof that they sometimes form strong likes? My energetic two-year-old rescue terrier cross will play with any dog. When I first started socialising her a year ago, she once played with a little dog we met along the way until they were both exhausted and lay panting. The other owner got up to leave. As we walked away from each other the little dogs kept looking back and pulling on their leashes as if they couldn't bear to be parted, even though they were far too tired to play anymore. Ships in the night. If we had been neighbours they would have been life-long inseparable palls.
BTW I had two cats that grew up together. The one died of cancer. The other just died very quietly one day in her sleep a short while later. All curled up. She wasn't sick. She hadn't apparently pined. There was no sign of a struggle (fighting for breath or heart attack or seizure). She just died. The veterinarian said, yup, it happens. He has an explanation, but it is not scientific.

Submitted by Jody Wright | February 13 2012 |

Animal friendships seem pretty obvious to those who share their lives with dogs. I, for one, have watched an adopted dog come into my household and bring tremendous joy and sharing to a depressed lab. It seems a closer friendship than many humans have.

Of course, that is anecdotal and I can offer no hard evidence. But isn't that like many of the intangibles - LOVE, GOD, and a few others. No matter the rigorous studies, try to prove those things, eh?

There's a whole colorful world out there . . . with no evidence to back it up, lol.

Jody Wright
Author/Artist of 50 Secrets Humans Should Know

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