Does Your Dog Think His Dog Friend is His Brother?

Introduction

Dogs living together in the same home often develop close bonds and relationships that may seem similar to human siblings. Some key questions around whether dogs view housemates as siblings include: Do they see each other as family? How do they establish bonds and hierarchy? Do they play, communicate, or guard resources as siblings would? This article will examine dog behavior, psychology, and pack dynamics to explore whether dogs perceive housemates as siblings.

Pack Mentality

Dogs are descended from wolves, who have a strong social hierarchy and pack mentality. Though domesticated dogs live in human families now, researchers find they still adhere to the pack mentality in their social relationships with canine and human members of the household.

In the wild, wolf packs consist of an alpha pair who lead and make decisions for the group, subordinates who defer to the alphas, and juvenile offspring. This hierarchy helps maintain cooperation and shared responsibility in the pack for hunting, raising young, and defending territory (1).

Dogs relate to human family members similarly. They recognize social structure and may assume subordinate roles to humans, who dogs often view as social superiors or pack leaders. Dogs bred for companionship readily accept humans as authority figures and aim to please them. However, dominant behaviors like aggression or disobedience can arise if owners reward those behaviors or fail to establish clear rules (2).

Overall, the pack social structure is deeply ingrained in canine psychology. Knowing this helps owners arrange harmonious households and understand behaviors their dogs display with other members of the “pack.”

1. Dog Dominance, Alpha, and Pack Leadership – VCA Hospitals

2. Dog Behavior: Pack Mentality and Dog Park Safety – Northpark Veterinary Clinic

Bonding Behaviors

Dogs exhibit many bonding behaviors with their litter mates and other dogs that are similar to human sibling relationships. These behaviors help dogs form strong social connections.

Young puppies will often sleep curled up together and nurse from the same mother dog, creating an intimate bond from early on [1]. As they grow, dogs will continue to sleep touching or piled on top of each other. This close contact helps reinforce their connection.

two puppies sleeping curled up next to each other

Dogs also like to play together, often chasing, wrestling, and play fighting. This helps establish trust and affection. Puppies will bite and paw at each other while learning limits. Adult dogs can play tug-of-war and keep away games. Playing generates oxytocin which promotes bonding [2].

Grooming behaviors like licking each others’ faces and nudging or bumping heads also releases oxytocin. Dogs may lick each others’ mouths and ears as gestures of affiliation. Scent marking and sniffing keeps them familiar with each other as well.

Overall, dogs engage in many interactive behaviors that help strengthen their relationships over time, similar to human siblings.

Scent and Familiarity

Dogs rely heavily on their sense of smell and can recognize each other based on their unique scent profile. According to one study, dogs can identify the scent of a family member even after 2 years of separation (https://wagwalking.com/sense/can-dogs-smell-family-members). This is likely because dogs that live together will have similar scents from being exposed to the same environments, food sources, and people.

When dogs live in close quarters with their siblings from birth, they become very familiar with each other’s scent from an early age. Even if separated later in life, dogs can still recognize their siblings solely by scent years afterward. Scent memory is very powerful for dogs.

Some research also indicates dogs may be able to detect scent similarities between human family members. Dogs seem to be friendlier and less wary when greeting relatives of their owner compared to strangers. This could be because they detect familiar scents between related people that make them recognize the person as “safe” (https://www.quora.com/Can-dogs-recognize-human-family-members-by-smell-My-dogs-seem-to-accept-my-blood-relatives-mother-and-sister-faster-than-strangers-Is-it-because-we-smell-similar).

In summary, dogs depend on scent to identify family members, including canine siblings and human relatives. Their incredible sense of smell allows dogs to recognize family even after long separations.

Resource Guarding

Resource guarding among dog siblings is an extremely common behavior. Dogs instinctively do not want to share valued resources like food, toys, and attention with others. This survival instinct stems from their ancestors’ need to protect limited resources in the wild (Clickertraining.com, 2011).

Resource guarding often occurs between sibling dogs who live together. One dog may guard a favorite toy, treat, or sleeping area from the other. Or dogs may compete for a favorite spot on the couch or the owner’s affection and lap. Sibling dogs may also guard resources like food bowls, bones, and toys from each other (Dog goneproblems.com, 2019).

For example, one dog may snap, growl or stand over a chew toy when the other sibling approaches. Or a dog may gulp down food quickly to prevent their sibling from getting any. Mild resource guarding like freezing, staring, and reluctantly sharing upon insistence are more common in sibling dogs. But more concerning aggressive behaviors like biting and fighting can also occur.

To curb resource guarding, experts recommend increasing exercise, interrupting overly intense play sessions, enforcing rules consistently among siblings, and rewarding sharing behaviors (Dog goneproblems.com, 2019). Managing resources like feeding dogs separately can also prevent conflict. But dogs who live together should still be taught to accept each other around resources through conditioning.

Play Behaviors

When dogs grow up together in the same household, they naturally view each other as siblings or part of their pack. Familiar dogs will often engage in playful behaviors like wrestling, chasing, and mouthing with one another. According to the ASPCA, this type of play among siblings or family members serves an important developmental purpose, as it teaches dogs how to interact appropriately and read social cues.

However, sibling dogs tend to play more roughly than dogs who are unfamiliar with one another. Puppies who are littermates will frequently play-fight as a way to establish dominance and work out their ranking in the family pack. Mounting, growling, barking, and roughhousing are common. While it may appear aggressive, this is natural social behavior that allows pups to test boundaries (https://hillaryshoundhouse.com/roughhousing-vs-play/).

On the other hand, when dogs are meeting a new playmate for the first time, their play style tends to be more inhibited. There is less physicality and more caution as the dogs slowly get to know one another. Play bows, retreating, and taking breaks are used to clearly communicate friendliness and prevent conflict. According to certified dog trainer Mikkel Becker, unfamiliar dogs engage in this type of “polite play” to avoid negative interactions and safely establish rapport.

Body Language Cues

Dogs rely heavily on body language to communicate, especially with their family members including siblings. Some telltale signs that dogs recognize and see each other as siblings include:

Excited or happy body language when greeting each other, like a wagging tail, perked up ears, and sniffing. This shows they recognize each other’s scent (https://wagwalking.com/sense/can-dogs-tell-who-their-siblings-are).

Relaxed posture around each other once the initial greeting is over, such as laying down near each other. This demonstrates comfort and familiarity (https://www.quora.com/Can-your-dog-recognize-a-brother-or-sister-as-being-part-of-your-family).

Play behaviors like play bows, chasing, and gentle wrestling. Dogs engage in more roughhouse play with siblings and family members than unfamiliar dogs.

Guarding resources like food, toys, or space from unfamiliar dogs but not siblings. They recognize family ties and show less competitiveness.

Subtle signs like eye contact, lip licking, yawning, and tail position also indicate moods and relationships between dogs.

Owner Relationships

While sibling dogs may form close bonds with each other, the relationship with their human owners tends to be even stronger and more impactful. Dogs view their human caretakers as the leaders of their “pack” and form incredibly strong attachments. They depend on their owners for food, shelter, affection and guidance. The owner is the most constant presence in a dog’s life.

Sibling dogs have a different type of relationship, based more on play, mutual socialization and familiarity. While they recognize each other and take comfort in each other’s presence, their survival does not depend on the presence of their canine sibling. Many dogs adjust just fine and form similarly strong bonds if separated from a sibling later in life. However, separating a dog from a beloved human caretaker can cause more intense distress and longing.

Human-dog relationships include elements like emotional support, verbal praise, direct caregiving and lifelong stability that simply are not present between canine siblings. So while dogs may feel affection for doggy brothers and sisters, their most profound attachment is reserved for their special human owners.

Expert Opinions

There are differing views among canine experts regarding whether dogs view their littermates as siblings. Some experts believe that dogs rely primarily on scent for identification and may not recognize siblings after a long separation (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-12291473/Vets-reveal-dogs-recognise-relatives-findings-heartbreaking.html). However, other experts argue that dogs form strong social bonds early in life that allow littermates to maintain a sense of familiarity and kinship over time. For example, veterinarian Katja Heim posits that dogs remember and feel attachment to siblings due to imprinting during critical socialization periods, even after years apart (https://ultimatepetnutrition.com/dogs-remember-siblings/). Additionally, animal behaviorists like Dr. Stanley Coren contend that dogs use multiple cues like scent, auditory recognition, and visual identification to perceive family members, including siblings.

Conclusion

In summary, while dogs may not technically view each other as siblings in the human sense of the word, they do form strong social bonds and pack relationships with other dogs in their household. Dogs are highly social animals with an innate drive to cooperate and bond with others, especially those they live with. Through daily interactions, sharing resources and territory, playing together, and displaying bonding behaviors, dogs come to see housemates as trusted companions or “packmates.” While they may not consciously think “that’s my brother/sister,” they do recognize each other as familiar and part of their social group or family. So in their own way, dogs likely relate to and perceive canine housemates similarly to how human siblings view each other – as trusted allies to work together, look out for, and engage in social play with. With proper introductions, training, and care, multi-dog households can live in harmony as a cohesive social unit.

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