Does My Dog See Me As His Dad?

The bond between dogs and their owners is a special one. According to a 2022 study, over 90% of dog owners reported having a close relationship with their pet, with the majority considering them to be like a family member (Pew Research Center). This close attachment prompts many owners to wonder – does my dog see me as their parent?

Dog Senses

Dogs have an incredibly advanced sense of smell that allows them to recognize their owners. Their sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than humans. According to the American Kennel Club, dogs have up to 300 million scent receptors in their noses, while humans only have about 6 million. This means dogs can detect and process scents at much lower concentrations than humans can [1].

Because each person has a unique scent, dogs are able to remember and recognize their owners’ smell. Dogs also have an excellent sense of hearing. Their range of hearing is approximately 40 Hz to 60,000 Hz, while a human’s range is around 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. Dogs can identify their owners by picking up on familiar voices and patterns of speech [2]. Their advanced senses of smell and hearing allow dogs to recognize their owners even without visual cues.

Pack Mentality

Dogs are social animals that naturally form packs in the wild. Even domesticated dogs retain this pack mentality and view their human families as members of their “pack.” Within a pack, dogs establish a social hierarchy with dominant alpha animals and subordinate followers. Research indicates that dogs often view their human owners as the “alpha” leader of the pack.

Signs that a dog sees its owner as the alpha pack leader include seeking permission before eating, allowing physical handling, respecting commands, and displaying submissive body language like averting eyes or tucking tail. Some dogs may challenge owners for alpha status through behaviors like growling, mounting, or refusing to follow orders. Establishing clear rules, consistency in training, and displaying calm-assertive energy can reinforce an owner’s alpha role. Ultimately, viewing owners as caring, trusted leaders allows dogs to feel secure in their pack’s social framework.

Paternal Bonds

Some research suggests dogs relate to their male owners as father figures. A study by Horn et al. in 2022 found that dogs show attachment behaviors towards their caregivers similar to young children, indicating a parental bond. This parental-offspring framework may apply more to male owners, as dogs tend to obey women easier but form deeper emotional bonds with men ( However, views differ on whether dogs actually see owners as parents vs friends. Some argue that affectionate, loyal behavior doesn’t necessarily indicate a parental bond, as dogs don’t have human family constructs. Their pack loyalty stems more from friendship and companionship ( Regardless, dogs form strong attachments and their behavior shows they think of owners as family.

Loyalty and Attachment

Dogs form strong attachments and loyalty to their human caregivers, similar to the bonds babies form with their parents. Research shows dogs display attachment behaviors towards their owners such as proximity seeking, safe haven, separation distress, and secure base effects (Payne, 2015). Dogs show distress when separated from their attachment figure, and prefer to stay close to them in unfamiliar or frightening situations, indicating an attachment bond. The strength of attachment a dog forms can depend on factors like how long the human and dog have been together and the amount of care the human provides.

One study found adult dogs exhibited behaviors associated with secure attachment after being separated from their owner, including greeting them enthusiastically upon return and maintaining contact. Insecurely attached dogs showed signs of anxiety and ambivalence (Rehn, 2017). Like human attachments, dog-owner attachments form through daily affectionate interactions. Dogs who have experienced trauma, neglect, or frequent rehoming may develop attachment disorders or struggle bonding.

While dogs don’t view their owners as literal parents in a family structure sense, the loyalty and attachment they form is akin to a parent-child relationship. Through devoted daily care and bonding, owners become the most important being in a dog’s life.

Training and Discipline

When owners train and discipline their dogs, they take on a role similar to a parent teaching and guiding their child. Dogs view their owners as authority figures that provide structure, guidance, and boundaries through training ( Setting rules, rewarding good behavior, and correcting unwanted actions helps establish the owner’s leadership role. This mimics a parent-child dynamic.

According to one study, dogs show similar attachment behaviors towards their owners as human children do with parents. They look to their owners for safety, guidance, and reassurance in uncertain situations ( When owners consistently train dogs through positive reinforcement methods, it can strengthen their bond and trust, much like a parental relationship.

However, experts caution against taking the parent-child comparison too far when training dogs. While an owner’s role shares similarities with parenting, dogs do best when the relationship maintains an appropriate dominant-submissive structure ( Trying to treat a dog too much like a human child can lead to behavioral issues.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety, one of the most common behavioral problems in dogs, occurs when a dog becomes extremely anxious when separated from their owner or left alone for a period of time [1]. Just like young children may become upset and worried when their parent leaves, dogs that are strongly bonded with their owners can experience intense distress when left on their own. Signs of separation anxiety include vocalizing, destructive behavior, and inappropriate elimination

Dogs are pack animals, so being isolated from their “pack” goes against their social nature and can trigger panic and stress. Some common triggers for separation anxiety include the owner putting on their shoes/coat, picking up keys, leaving the house, and being separated from another pet [2]. While puppies often show signs as they adjust to being alone, separation anxiety sometimes develops in adulthood due to changes in routine, a new home, loss of another pet, or trauma.

Treatment focuses on desensitization training, providing mental stimulation, and easing the transition when owners leave. With patience and consistency, separation anxiety can be overcome so both owner and dog can feel at ease.

Guarding Behavior

Some dogs exhibit protective behavior over resources or their owners. This type of behavior stems from the dog’s instinct to guard valued resources. According to, dogs want to protect their family and home because it is part of their instinctual pack mentality. They view their family as their “pack” and want to keep them safe from perceived threats. Dogs may display guarding behavior such as growling or barking when someone approaches their food, toys, bed or owner. This stems from a desire to protect these resources from being taken away.

According to, some dogs become protective of their owner if they view them as weak or vulnerable. They may growl at other people or animals approaching their owner. This guarding behavior is the dog’s way of protecting their vulnerable “pack leader.” Proper training and socialization can curb extreme guarding behavior.

Individual Factors

A dog’s life experiences play a significant role in shaping how they relate to and bond with their human caretakers. Both innate traits and learned behaviors influence the dog-owner relationship.

According to research, dogs that have more positive experiences with humans from birth, such as gentle handling, are more likely to develop secure attachments to their owners (Payne, 2015). On the other hand, dogs with a history of mistreatment, neglect, or abuse may struggle to form trust bonds and exhibit anxious or avoidant attachment styles.

The quality of early interactions with humans serves to socialize puppies and facilitates the development of skills needed to communicate with and interpret human behavior. Puppies that lack proper socialization during critical developmental stages often have more difficulty interpreting human social cues.

Furthermore, the amount of time spent with the owner, especially in activities like play, training, exercise, and affection, strengthens the human-canine bond. Dogs that share a close bond and positive interactions with their owner are more attentive, responsive, and cooperative with that individual (Bender et al., 2023).

In summary, nurturing dogs with care, socialization, training, and quality time fosters a greater human-animal bond and understanding between owner and pet.


Based on the research and evidence presented, it’s clear that dogs have the capacity to form strong bonds with their human owners that resemble familial relationships. Dogs view their owners as the leaders of their pack and rely on them for guidance, nurturing, and support. The loyalty and attachment dogs demonstrate, as well as their desire to be near their owners, protect them, and receive affection from them, all point to dogs perceiving their owners as family members. While dogs may not cognitively understand the human concept of “family,” their behavior and emotional responses indicate a powerful bond akin to the relationships between parents and children or between siblings. Ultimately, the depth of the dog-human bond confirms that dogs see their human caretakers as their family.

Scroll to Top