They are ‘Man’s Best Friend’; a title that stems from centuries as our companions and pets. While you may wonder why this phrase has become so popular among not only dog owners, but the general media, the answer really lies in the facts. With 39% of American households owning dogs, they definitely are the favored pet.
They’re also easily trainable, affectionate, and for many, serve as more than just a pet. Dogs are also hunting companions, guards, protectors, entertainment, helpers, guides, and best friends. They are featured in movies, book, TV and songs as being the best pet you can have.
So why is this? Why do dogs and humans get along so well? It can’t just be training, because humans have tried to train multitudes of different animals with little success. They’ve also domesticated many animals, such as horses and cats, that have not received any similar title.
It all boils down to the pack mentality that dogs have. While other animals, such as horses, will often be in a herd (or other such group), dogs have a social structure that mirrors our own. When wolves were the most common breed of canine, and mankind was still primitive and living in huts, caves and other crude homes, humans acted in a similar manner to wolves.
There was the leader of the group (occasionally a pair), which was the equivalent to an alpha wolf There were lesser members of the group, or the betas in wolf society, there were children who were looked after and treated based on their parent’s ranking until adult hood, much like wolf cubs. And finally there were omegas: the group’s scapegoat, jester or general ‘low-man’.
While this mentality is seen throughout the wild in various degrees, the similarities between man and wolf are sometimes astounding. The ‘alpha’ will often demonstrate its suitability to his position with various acts of strength, leadership and skill. The ‘omega’ will often be the one to try to cheer the group up and the ‘cubs’ are allowed to play with the adults looking after them.
Both humans and dogs are extremely social animals, relying not only on verbal communication, but body language and other forms of non-verbal communication. They develop monogomas pairs, acting with jealousy and anger when another tries to ‘make a move’ on their mate. Wolves will also occasionally ‘divorce’, much like humans will. They also have a ‘home base’, also called a den. They will protect their den, raise their young there, and go there to sleep.
Beyond the similarities in the behaviors of people and their canine counterparts, there is also the fact that dogs are so loyal. While this also stems from their pack mentality, it is one of the biggest reasons that people have so successful domesticated dogs. They see you as their ‘alpha’, or another member of their pack. They depend on you for food, protection and shelter.
As the alpha, they see it as they owe you their life. You are in charge of protecting them should danger arrive, or at least leading any potential ‘battle’ that might occur. You bring them food and distribute it accordingly.
Humans first noticed this similarities and began to domesticate dogs. Training them to see us as their alphas was the first step. Once that was established the rest became far easier, as dogs will naturally defer to their alpha for guidance.
Breeding helped ingrain the behaviors that humans liked. Dogs that were good at hunting were bred to hunt and bring food back to their master. Each dog was bred with a purpose in mind and with that purpose came a removal from their wild roots. Not in the sense of pack nature, but how much they depended on you, their owner, to provide for them.
In recent history, the shift from being companions and animal servants shifted to the dog becoming a member of the family, often times playing the role of the cub. This position as the cub enforces their loyalty, even when they begin to grow. It promotes the bond, similar to parent and child.
With other animals, domesticated and otherwise, the parent-child bond has various levels of strength, with some animals even considering their children a threat once they have reached adulthood. While wolves will leave a pack to start their own, they still maintain the same level of respect for their parents that humans will. This is one of the main reasons why dogs and humans get along so well.