If you have ever watched the true-life movie, Hachiko, about a dog’s love for his master, you will better understand the ancient bond between dogs and their owners. (And cry your eyes out!)
Stories of canine loyalty regularly find their way onto social media. It tells of dogs that would walk thousands of kilometers to find their lost family, dogs who die while trying to save their masters and military dogs who sacrifice themselves to save their human partners.
Scientists had always asked valid questions about this bond between dog and human. So what is this bond between us? Is it merely allegiance or want of a decent meal and a place to sleep? Is it obedience? Would a dog really walk across the country to rejoin its family simply out of compliance or for a meal? Do dogs routinely risk their lives for a bone or run through fire for a comfortable place to rest?
It is clear that the bond goes much deeper than that. It is an ancient, mutually beneficial rapport, based upon millennia of domestication and partnership. For more than 20,000 years, we have bred dogs not only for hunting, herding, protection and companionship, but also for loyalty, devotion and emotional support. This had resulted in a fellowship not seen between any two other species. Though we are genetically closest to apes, it would be correct and understandable to surmise that we as humans are the closest to canines on a deeper level.
Work ethic in dogs and humans
Different factors contribute to the human/canine bond. Dogs do what they do to make us happy and we, in our assumed higher state of enlightenment, do the same.
Dog behaviourists would be the first to point to the same work ethic of canines and humans. Many people do only what they have to do to pass a day at the office, but there are others who go one step further, an inborn desire to make a difference. That is exactly the same with dogs.
The herding dog and her relationship with her shepherd, the police dog and his K-9 officer, the search-and-rescue dog and her handler - the desire to work with humans had been hard-wired into our canine friends.
The Rescue Factor
Dogs saved from dire circumstances often exhibit an intense connection with the rescuer. It can often be so pronounced that it results in stress for the dog, separation anxiety, destructive behaviour and fear of abandonment could become profound. This derives from the anxiety developed from being abandoned one or more times by persons who the dog thought were devoted, bonded partners. But once rescue dogs find a reliable, devoted person and are properly trained, cared for and loved, they often become the most connected, passionate partners a human can ever know.
What affects this bond?
The human/canine bond is a deeply rooted understanding, measured in emotion, dependability and mutual support. It is a need to belong and to feel wanted, useful, and safe. Change these parameters and you affect the bond.
Fail to give your dog affection, routine, dependability, training and boundaries and the unspoken connection would grow weaker as time goes by. Abuse or ignore your dog, or fail to see to its basic needs and you could sabotage the intimate link. Anything that makes your dog feel unwanted, neglected or afraid would negatively affect and lower the strength of the human/canine bond.
Strengthening the bond is just as predictable. Spending time together builds trust, confidence and love and creates a feeling of familial belonging, the roots of the bond. Activities such as travelling together, walking, hiking, training and playing pull you both closer to each other, nurturing that intimacy. And it is not only the dog that benefits.
Obedience training, though not the primary promoter of bonding, provides the dog lover with a way to communicate, essential to any relationship. Once you both speak the same language, trust and confidence would automatically follow. Training helps your dog to focus on you and ignore all the surrounding distractions and dog trainers say it is that focus which is essential to building any relationship, especially the one with your dog.