Do Dogs Think They Are Your Baby?


There is an ongoing debate as to whether pet dogs view their human owners as parent figures or not. Many dog owners like to think they have a parent-child relationship with their furry companions, but do the dogs actually think of their owners in that way? Research in recent years has aimed to uncover how dogs perceive their human caregivers and has provided increasing evidence that dogs do form a type of attachment bond with their owners similar to a child’s bond with a parent. Factors like responding to them as a secure base, displaying separation anxiety, favoring owners for comfort, and exhibiting jealousy all point to dogs viewing their caregivers as having a parental role in their lives. While dogs may not have the same complex thought processes as humans, their behavior suggests a deep connection on par with a parent-child dynamic.

Dogs Show Attachment Behavior

Similar to human infants, dogs exhibit attachment behavior towards their caregivers. Research shows that like infants, dogs show distress when separated from their caregiver and pleasure when reunited, indicating a strong bond ( Much like an infant seeks proximity, contact, and interaction with their caregiver for security, dogs also demonstrate attachment behaviors such as staying close, following, maintaining eye contact, and resisting separation from their owner.

One study found that dogs display behaviors associated with an attachment system directed toward their owner ( When the owner was present, dogs showed maintenance of proximity, contact, and interaction behaviors. When separated from the owner, dogs exhibited behaviors similar to separation anxiety in children. Just like human caregiver-child bonds, dog-owner bonds are based on an attachment system that provides the dog with feelings of security.

Dogs Have Secure Base Effect

Research indicates that dogs exhibit the “secure base effect” in their relationship with their owners, similar to human children. This means that dogs see their owners as a secure base from which they can explore the surrounding environment and to return to for comfort and reassurance when needed

In a 2013 study published in PLOS ONE, researchers found that dogs manipulated a problem-solving toy longer when their owner was present compared to when they were absent, demonstrating that the owner’s presence provided security for the dogs to explore This secure base effect was present regardless of whether the owner actively encouraged the dog or remained passive.

Another 2021 study in PMC reinforces that dogs see their owners as a secure base and source of comfort. Former shelter dogs especially differentiated between their owners and strangers, indicating a strong bond and attachment to their new caregivers after adoption

Dogs Recognize Owners as Caregivers

Research shows that dogs recognize their owners as caregivers and providers. Dogs form attachments to their owners who give them food, shelter, affection and care [1]. When owners display nurturing behavior towards dogs, it activates the reward center in the dog’s brain, reinforcing the caregiver bond [2]. Studies reveal dogs can distinguish their owners from strangers based on scent and visual cues. This ability likely evolved to help dogs identify caretakers. Dogs also show preference for their owners, suggesting they recognize them as providers of their needs.

Dogs Display Separation Anxiety

One key way dogs act like babies is they experience separation anxiety when their owners leave, just like human infants do. Dogs form strong bonds with their caregivers and can become very distressed when separated from them, even for short periods of time (Lenkei et al., 2021). This anxiety stems from a fear of being abandoned and can manifest in physical symptoms like panting, pacing, whining, barking, destruction, and elimination issues (Pankratz et al., 2021).

Much like babies, dogs may cry and search for their owner when left alone. They can even develop depression-like symptoms. Sargisson (2014) found medications like fluoxetine and clorazepate dipotassium can help reduce anxiety in dogs, just as they do for humans. Separation anxiety is a common issue owners must address to ensure their dogs’ wellbeing.

Dogs Make Eye Contact for Care

Like human infants, dogs make eye contact with their owners to solicit care and attention. Research has shown that dogs will increase eye contact when communicating with their owners, looking to them for assistance and bonding (Researchers determine which dogs more often establish … – This parallels the way human infants use eye gaze to draw attention from caregivers. Dogs have evolved this behavior as it elicits caregiving from owners.

Studies demonstrate that when dogs want something like food or assistance, they will stare intently at their owners to get them to respond, similar to the way babies intensely gaze at caregivers’ eyes. Dogs also sustain eye contact longer with their owners versus strangers. This eye contact activates the human caregiving system and facilitates an emotional bond between dog and owner (Eye Contact Is Crucial for Referential Communication in … – NCBI). In this way, dogs have learned that eye contact draws attention and care from human caregivers.

Dogs Play Games Like Children

Similar to young children, dogs will often try to initiate playtime with their owners as a way to gain attention and interact. This is evidenced by behaviors like bringing over a favorite toy and insistently pushing it towards the owner, nosing or pawing at the owner while crouching in the typical “play bow” posture, or excitedly running up to the owner in hopes of being chased. Much like a child saying “play with me!,” dogs have their own way of trying to get their owners engaged in active play.

Some common play routines dogs learn to instigate include games of fetch, tug-of-war, chase, and wrestling. According to dog behaviorist Patricia McConnell, dogs are more likely to initiate play when their owner is paying attention to them, similar to how children engage parents [1]. This shows dogs have an understanding of their owner’s role in playtime activities and will solicit play when they want that interaction.

Overall, the fact that dogs purposefully try to get their owners to participate in certain play games indicates they view owners much like children view their parents – as playmates and companions who will engage with them in fun, bonded activities when prompted.

Dogs Show Jealousy of Attention

Dogs can exhibit jealous behaviors when their owner pays attention to another person or animal. A 2018 study published in Scientific Reports found that dogs were more likely to push or touch their owner and exhibit other jealous behaviors when their owner interacted with a realistic fake dog compared to nonsocial objects [1]. This suggests that dogs were responding negatively to their owners diverting attention away from themselves.

Researchers at the University of Auckland also demonstrated that dogs show significantly more jealous behaviors such as snapping, getting between their owner and the object, and pushing when their owner focused attention on a stuffed dog compared to a jack-o-lantern [2]. This indicates that dogs are capable of jealousy when they perceive their bond with their owner is threatened.

Overall, studies show dogs display behaviors associated with jealousy when their owner interacts with a potential “rival” – whether a toy, animal, or person. This suggests dogs have an expectation of receiving their owner’s attention and become distressed when attention is diverted elsewhere.

Owners Treat Dogs Like Children

Many dog owners treat their pets similar to children by using ‘baby talk’, buying toys and clothes, and allowing them to sleep in beds. A survey found that 56% of dog owners let their pets sleep with them, and 78% bought gifts for their dogs (Newsweek). This close bond causes some owners to dote on their dogs with the same affection given to human babies and kids.

It’s common for owners to refer to themselves as their dog’s “mommy” or “daddy” and use childish, high-pitched voices when talking to their pet. Owners may justify pampering their dogs by pointing to their unconditional love and saying they’re like their “fur babies.” Critics argue this sends the wrong message and can lead to behavioral problems if dogs aren’t also given proper obedience training and treated like animals (PureWow).

While dogs sharing beds, receiving gifts, and being talked to lovingly may seem harmless, owners should be careful not to take the parent-child relationship too far. With the right balance, caring owners can build a rewarding bond with their dogs without the need to replace human children.


The scientific evidence suggests that dogs do likely view their human owners as parent figures in many ways. Dogs demonstrate attachment behaviors towards their owners, such as preference for proximity, contact, and interaction [1]. The secure base effect shows dogs use their owners as a secure base from which to explore, similar to human children. Dogs also recognize their owners as primary caregivers and display separation anxiety when left alone [2]. Behaviors like frequent eye contact for care, play similarities with children, and jealousy of attention indicate dogs relate to owners like dependent offspring. While dogs may not view humans as biological parents, their behaviors suggest they see owners as parent figures that provide safety, affection, resources, and nurturing.

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