It's not uncommon to see dog owners treating their canine companions as if they were their first-born kin! As owners, we like to assume parental roles. The extend of that will vary from one person to the next.
Some dog caregivers go above and beyond, dressing their puppies in fashion-forward outfits and carrying them in strollers. Others simply use baby talk to communicate with their furry friends.
Both roles are valid as long as you're showering your dog with love and adoration.
The human-to-dog relationship is easy to identify. You're the protector and provider, which might as well bet the same role as a mother. But how does that relationship look from the other perspective? Does your dog think you're its mom?
The Secure Base Effect
Studies suggest that dogs do, indeed, understand that you take on a parental role. Think about how your dog acts in unfamiliar situations. They might be scared or shy when they don't recognize their surroundings or the people around them.
But the moment you enter the equation, your dog suddenly takes a sigh of relief and begins to act a little more confidently. You might notice this kind of behavior in a new dog park or at the veterinarian's office.
The behavior is a phenomenon known as the Secure Base Effect. It's something that human children exhibit as well. Children form a bond with their caregivers and use them as a secure base when things get uncomfortable.
As long as the parent is around, children become a little more daring. That's because you're there to save the day if something goes wrong.
The fact that puppies use you as a secure base is very telling. It indicates that your relationship is much deeper than the surface level.
Your dog sees you as a source of solace and comfort, much like they would if their birth mother was still around.
Signature Parental-Child Social Behaviors
Here's another way that behavioralists highlight parental bonds.
Have you ever encountered something super scary on a walk or trip to the dog park? Maybe a larger intimidating dog rounds the corner and causes a big fright. What does your dog do?
There's a good chance that they turn to you for comfort and protection! They might make a beeline to you in moments of distress.
Some dogs will even cower behind their owner's legs! It's an adorable little behavior that says a lot about what your dog thinks of you.
Once again, it's the same behaviors that a young toddler would do when they get scared.
Your dog knows you're the ultimate protector, so they focus their attention on you to ensure that you're there to keep them safe.
Dogs can also show signs of grief whenever an owner dies or leaves for an extended period. This doesn't necessarily indicate that dogs think of owners as parents. Nor does it prove that dogs understand the concept of death.
However, it does show an important moment of empathy and caring. Dogs are emotional creatures that can form bonds like no others in the animal kingdom.
You can see them grieve the death of other dogs in the family or even miss the presence of someone they saw every day, such as a mailman.
The loss of an owner is a significant blow to a dog's psyche. Anecdotal evidence suggests that dogs go through bouts of depression when they experience loss.
How your dog positions itself in a social hierarchy provides a glimpse into their thought processes, too.
In the wild, dogs are pack animals. They live in large groups with a central leader. The leader is the top dog, and all other canines do what they can to please them.
Dogs always stay by the pack leader and look to them for guidance in moments of uncertainty.
Contrary to popular belief, the dog-owner relationship is not a constant battle for dominance. Old-school training methods highlighted the importance of being domineering, but pack leaders weren't always violent.
They were natural leaders that guided the pack to safety. That's what you do for your dog every single day, so that intuitive connection often happens naturally.
Nurturing and Training
Dogs will also adopt learned behaviors that can shape the way they look at you. Training does a lot to strengthen the bond.
Not only that, but it reinforces your respective positions in the social hierarchy of your family.
Positive reinforcement and socialization go a long way to building a lasting bond. Dog value structure and want nothing more than to please you.
You may notice your dog exhibiting some child-like behaviors the stronger your connection. For example, they might follow you around like a toddler or learn to request the things they can't get themselves.
Those behaviors only cement your role as a pet parent.
How Your Dog Identifies You
It's not just an emotional bond that dogs forge with pet parents. They use their senses to identify you in a crowd, too.
One way they do this is with their sense of smell. Dogs have about 220 million receptors in their nose. For some perspective, humans only have about five million! Their olfactory glands are up to 100,000 times more sensitive than hours.
As a result, they can detect minute scent profiles that identify you. Your scent gets on everything in the home, so it brings a sense of comfort to your dog.
Even in a crowded room in the dark, your dog will use their scent memory to find you.
Interestingly enough, dogs can recognize facial expressions, too. Canines don't use their sight as much as their smell to find you. But, studies show that they are more willing to gaze at your face and read emotions.
They're more comfortable gazing into your eyes than that of a stranger. Usually, long bouts of staring are a sign of potential aggression among dogs.
The fact that your pup is willing to stare into your eyes shows trust and an unbroken bond.
Ultimately, there's no real way to know whether your dog sees you as a mother or not. If we had to make an educated guess based on social behaviors, there's likely some form of maternal connection in your relationship.
Your dog likely sees you as a parent and a protector, but no in the traditional sense that human children see you.
Either way, your dog is fully capable of recognizing your role in its life. Through instincts, training, and constant loving interactions, it doesn't take long for your furry friend to look at you as if you were its mother.