Couples Therapy

My dog and I aren’t a couple… are we?

Let me set the record straight. The dog-human relationship is just that- A RELATIONSHIP. It also shows remarkable similarity to interpersonal relationships, particularly for those of us with companion dogs. In the scientific community, many researchers agree that the dog-human relationship constitutes what is known as an attachment bond[1][2][3]. Attachment in this context refers to a strong emotional bond between two individuals and typically refers to the infant-caregiver relationship.

So my dog is like my baby?

Yes and no. Yes dogs show a lot of the same behaviours that we see in attached infants (such as seeing the attachment figure as a safe haven when stressors are present) [1]. Our dogs are also dependent on us for food and shelter, so it’s understandable that dogs would perceive humans as caregiver figures. However, dogs aren’t quite as dependent on adult humans as infants are. In this case, the relationship we have with our dogs probably deserves it’s own title as it is not quite parental but we’re not exactly peers either. The dog-human relationship is unique, characterised by a strong mutual emotional bond between a dog and a human, and it deserves just as much attention as our interpersonal relationships.

Does it though?

YES! Positive interactions between dogs and humans have been shown to increase the concentrations of hormones important to happiness and bonding (like serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine) in both parties [4][5]. Interacting with and owning dogs has also been associated with several emotional and psychological health benefits in humans [6][7]. As such, it is in our best interests to cultivate strong, positive relationships with our dogs, so we (and our dogs) can reap the benefits.

With that in mind please follow me to discover the ways in which we can enrich the relationships we have with our dogs and avoid the many pitfalls that can come with dog ownership.

[show_more more=”References” less=”Hide references”]
  1. Payne, E., DeAraugo, J., Bennett, P., McGreevy, P., 2015. Exploring the existence and potential underpinnings of dog-human and horse-human attachment bonds. Behavioural Processes 125, pp114-121. DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2015.10.004
  2. Topal, J., Miklosi, A., Csanyi, V., Doka, A., 1998. Attachment behavior in dogs (Canis familiaris): A new application of Ainsworth’s (1969) Strange Situation Test. Journal of Comparative Psychology 112, 219-229.
  3. Horn, L., Huber, L., Range, F., 2013a. The importance of the secure base effect for domestic dogs – Evidence from a manipulative problem-solving task. PLOS ONE 8. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0065296
  4. Odendaal, J.S.J., Meintjes, R.A., 2003. Neurophysiological correlates of affiliative behaviour between humans and dogs. Veterinary Journal 165, 296-301.
  5. Handlin, L., Hydbring-Sandberg, E., Nilsson, A., Ejdeback, M., Jansson, A., Uvnas-Moberg, K., 2011. Short-term interaction between dogs and their owners: Effects on oxytocin, cortisol, insulin and heart rate-An exploratory study. Anthrozoos 24, 301-315.
  6. Barker, S.B., Wolen, A.R., 2008. The benefits of human-companion animal interaction: a review. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education 35, 487–495.
  7. Schneider, A.A., Rosenberg, J., Baker, M., Melia, N., Granger, B., Biringen, Z., 2014. Becoming relationally effective: high-risk boys in animal-assisted therapy. Human-animal Interaction Bulletin 2, 1–18.

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