My Dog Likes My Roommate More Than Me
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When we think of the relationships between humans and dogs, we think of them being our best friend. This is reasonable considering the relationships we see with our friends and their animal or even on various social media platforms. If we adopt a dog and find they are not immediately our best friend, it can make us feel inadequate or worry there is a problem. Sometimes, we may adopt a dog into a home we share with others and find they choose someone else as a favorite. This is the case if we see my dog likes my roommate more than me.
In this AnimalWised article, we explore the relationships dogs have with humans. We understand the reasons why dogs choose favorites and find out why your dog may love your roommate more than you.
Do dogs have a favorite person?
Dogs are highly social animals. In their wild counterparts, a dog's group tends to be their family. In the domestic environment, this family can include humans as well as other dogs and even animals of a different species. As we do with our own families and social groups, dogs are capable of establishing different relationships with the individuals with whom they live.
From an anthropocentric point of view, we can see it appears that a dog may choose a ‘favorite’, i.e. someone they enjoy being with more than any other. It may be easy to assume this person will be the one who gives them food or takes them for walks more than others, and often this is the case. However, this doesn't explain why a dog may like your roommate more than you when you are the one who provides their practical needs.
This is because dogs are cognitively more complex than we often give them credit. Cognitively, socially and emotionally, there are many factors involved in a dog choosing their favorite person. When a dog prefers your roommate over you, you will likely see the following:
- They quickly obey their commands, but aren't as responsive to yours.
- They follow them inside the house or on the street if walking off leash.
- Continually seeks physical contact with them.
- They greet them with heightened emotion when they enter the home.
- Sleep and rest by their side.
Attachment between dogs and a person can be signs of a healthy relationship, but this is not always the case. As we will see below, these behaviors can also occur in a very similar way when a dog suffers from excessive and/or pathological dependence on one of their guardians. It can even happen when they are afraid of them. It is for this reason, it is not always correct to say a dog has one ‘favorite’.
Why do dogs become more attached to a person?
Emotional attachment is important for social animals. They need to feel secure, especially in environments which can sometimes be stressful. By putting their love and trust into an individual, they can form a strong emotional bond which helps relieve feelings of insecurity. However, over-attachment is not a healthy dynamic. For example, it can mean they feel extremely insecure when we are not around.
Not all types of attachment are beneficial and some can have serious negative consequences for the individual. To better understand why your dog may be more attached to your roommate or any other person more than you, we should look at the types of emotional attachment in dogs:
- Secure attachment: this occurs when a dog establishes emotional attachment with their guardian or guardians when the latter provides education, socialization and care with appropriate levels of respect, empathy and coherence. This means more than covering their basic needs. They provide security and stimulation in a way which respects their canine nature and promotes healthy autonomy. When a dog has secure emotional attachment, they know they can fully trust their human guardian, will follow them commands gladly and actively seeks their support when needed. This is the type of attachment which needs to be promoted and dogs will prefer to be with any person who meets these requirements.
- Insecure attachment: dogs that live with people who ignore or misinterpret their communication signals, punish them systematically, prevent them from developing behaviors typical of their species or behave in an unpredictable way, usually establish an insecure emotional attachment with their guardians. In this case, the relationship between the animal and their guardian or guardians is unstable. Although there is also an affective bond that can become very strong, it is mainly based on fear and/or anxiety. In many cases, this develops into a pathological dependency rather than a healthy attachment.
These types of emotional attachment in dogs are not binary. Dogs can have different relationships with different members of a family group and we can often be inconsistent. This means the relationship can change and fluctuate.
In order to know what type of attachment your dog has towards you, your roommate or any other person, you will need to look at their behaviors. Do they obey you? Do they voluntarily seek you out for affection? Are they tense when you pet them? Context is everything when understanding the relationship we have with our dog. We need to both look at the behaviors and the context in which they are enacted.
If you think a dog may have an insecure attachment with someone, we can see their behavior will change. They will display calming signals because they feel tense around them. Their behaviors may be ambiguous or seemingly contradictory, e.g. wanting to approach, but them moving away at the same time. If they don't feel calm when they are physically apart, it implies separation anxiety, something derived from a pathological dependency.
If you suspect that your dog friend may have developed an inappropriate attachment to your roommate or you simply want to improve your relationship with them in order to become their favorite person, you should contact a professional ethologist or canine educator. They will help assess your situation, understand the dogs issues and implement practical methods of improving a healthy bond.
Reasons my dog likes my roommate more than me
With the context we have provided above, we can see some practical reasons why our dog prefers a roommate over us. Here are some of them:
- The roommate is more present: if we leave the home for work or other activities, but our roommate is around more often, it is understandable they will become more attached. Our roommate may simply give them more attention and become their point of reference.
- Our attitude is lacking: even if we are around the same amount of time, if we do not have the right approach when interacting with our dog, it can lead to them preferring the company of a roommate. This can be a difficult thing to define since some people are naturally better with animals. However, there are things you can do to improve this which you can read below.
- You try too hard: when we want a dog to love us, we may get frustrated when they don't. In these cases, we may find we try to hard, interact with them too much and don't respect their personal space. If your roommate is easy going and doesn't force interaction, they may be seen as better point of reference, depending on your dog's personality.
- Inappropriate training: if you use negative reinforcement, scold them or try to train them beyond their ability, they may feel threatened by you. In these cases, they may look to your roommate as someone who will provide the kind of care they understand. They may use positive reinforcement more when interacting with the dog and they respond to it better.
- You ignore body language: if you are playing with your dog and you see their ears are erect, they bare their teeth or show any signs they are unhappy, you need to pay attention. Ignoring these signs will lead to behavioral problems and even aggression in a dog. Learn more with our article on signs your dog is angry.
- Neglect basic needs: if you don't provide appropriate food, walks, stimulation, affection or any of a dog's basic needs, it will hurt your bond. Perhaps your roommate feeds them when you are away or gives them the affection you don't. In these cases, it is understandable they will prefer your roommate over you.
To learn more about how you can get on with your dog by learning what dogs match your personality.
What can I do to be my dog's favorite person?
To ensure a healthy and affectionate relationship between you and your dog, it is important that there is a clear channel of communication between you. This means you will need to educate yourself on how to interact with the dog, as much as the other way around. Some techniques you will need to implement to foster a healthy relationship with a dog include:
- Allowing them to socialize: as social animals, dogs want to explore the outside world. They want to meet other dogs, animals and people in the process. Being free to investigate their surroundings helps to give them a sense of security, as long as they know social boundaries. This is why their period of socialization when young is so important. It is during this time they learn how to interact with other dogs, animals, people and environments. Overprotection can instill fears and insecurities, leading to over-dependence on a human guardian.
- Educate them positively: many guardians abuse punishment to educate their dogs, since they consider that a dog should be submissive. However, systematic punishment generates fear in the dog and it will be fear which defines their deference towards you. This can lead to serious psychological and physical problems which can be avoided with a more respectful, positive and consistent education. To learn more, take a look at our guide to the negative effects of punishment.
- Spend quality time together: dogs love spending time with their guardians and even more so if this time is dedicated to activities we both enjoy. These include taking a walk in the countryside, swimming in the pool, playing games, training new skills or relaxing on the couch. If we only do activities we enjoy and which don't meet the needs of our dog, it will lead to behavioral problems. Learn what they enjoy and provide opportunity to do it.
- Respect their communication: we need to learn how dogs communicate and interpret the signals they give to us. In this way, we can best respond to these signals, whether giving them something they want or redirecting them into something more appropriate. A dog that feels understood and respected by their guardian will generate a much closer bond with them as it promotes confidence and security.
- Let them be a dog: this point is essential. If you have a dog at home, you should know that dogs bark, drool, run, bite things, dig, roll in the dirt, get into puddles, sniff everything they find and have many other behaviors. Although they may be practically annoying to us, they are important and necessary for them. As long as your dog's behavior does not harm them or others and is not pathological, let him be a dog.
Despite these general guidelines, you will need to remember each dog has their own personality. This is based on many factors, including health, experience, genetics, training, environment and more. These personality differences make some dogs more independent than others and show less affection, but it doesn't mean their well-being is compromised. Get to know your dog and respond accordingly.
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