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Do Dogs Have Best Friends? Exploring Canine Companionship 

Kit Copson

By Kit Copson

girl owner petting her dog's back

We all know that dogs are a human’s best friend, but do they form close friendships among themselves? Though there isn’t enough scientific data to prove that dogs have “best friends”, many experts and dog parents will tell you that it’s very common for pooches to gravitate toward certain dogs (and sometimes other animals) more than others. Let’s explore this further.

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Can Dogs Make Friends? 

Dogs are social animals, and many who spend a lot of time around dogs have observed behaviors similar to those we’d expect from close friends interacting with one another. This could be with a human, another dog, or even a cat or rabbit, in some cases.

These behaviors may include playing together, showing excitement and happiness when their animal companion is around, sleeping in close proximity to one another, and looking out for their fellow fluff by standing guard over them or helping them in difficult situations.

Two dogs sleeping
Image Credit: Pexels, Pixabay

My Experience of Dog Friendships

As a dog parent myself, I have witnessed most of the above behaviors in my own pooch, both at home and at the park. My dog, Bilbo, has a special affinity for one of my cats, and the two can often be found playing and exploring together or snoozing near one another.

Despite being of different species, the two share very similar personality traits. Both are outgoing, playful, affectionate, and love company, so they complement each other very well. The cat in question, Kili, is also very confident and has never been intimidated by Bilbo’s presence, even when we first brought him home as a kitten.

By contrast, my tortoiseshell, Strumpf, is far more independent and has a skittish disposition, so she interacts with Bilbo very rarely. For his part, Bilbo seems to have picked up on her disdain and leaves her alone as a rule. Of the two cats, it’s very clear that Bilbo has a preferred playmate.

When out and about, Bilbo also appears to have preferred playmates. When he sees a certain dog (there are two or three he really likes), his tail will start wagging and he’ll bound over to greet them.

He likes to play with other dogs, too, but he rarely shows such enthusiasm for their company as he does with those two or three specific dogs. I have always taken this to mean that there are for sure certain dogs Bilbo prefers to interact with over others.

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What Do the Experts Say?

Whether dogs make friends in a way similar to humans is a debated topic among experts, but some are convinced that they do based on observed behaviors and years of experience in the field of dog behavior. However, some have a different viewpoint.

Stanley Coren

Stanley Coren, Ph.D., a psychology professor, author, and dog expert, mentions several examples of dogs protecting one another in his article “Can Dogs Form True Friendships with Other Dogs?” in Psychology Today.

He refers to cases where dogs have stood guard over other dogs that had been hit by cars, and the case of a Labrador that rescued a kitten that had been cruelly thrown into a pond. The dog and kitten were inseparable from this moment, so the dog’s owners decided to keep the kitten.

While Coren acknowledges that these examples are not “conclusive evidence” of dogs forming friendships, he mentions that it’s “something to think about” nonetheless.

dog cat sharing food bowl stainless steel golden retriever
Image Credit: Chendongshan, Shutterstock

Patricia McConnell

Animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., created a post for her website entitled “Do Dogs Form “Real” Friendships?”. In this post, McConnell writes “It is hard for me to imagine arguing that they (dogs) can’t form social relationships analogous to friendships in our and other species.” This post was written in response to the article by Carl Zimmer below.

Carl Zimmer

In an article for Times Magazine entitled “Friends with Benefits”, science writer Carl Zimmer seems to have a different perspective on dog friendships than Coren and McConnell. In it, Zimmer explains that domestication has been responsible for dogs “being sweet and loyal to humans”, and that they “likely treat us more as guardians than friends.”

As for other dogs, Zimmer adds that “Dogs are neither our best friends nor one another’s—which is not to say they’re not warm and wonderful company all the same.”

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Final Thoughts

While experts have different ideas as to how far the term “friendship” can be applied to dogs, it’s clear that it’s normal for dogs to enjoy spending time with some dogs more than others. Dogs with similar personalities and play styles are often found together. In some cases, this kind of companionship extends to non-canine companions, like cats.

Featured Image Credit: TaniaKitura, Shutterstock

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