By Dr. Wailani Sung
When we brought our puppy home several years ago, I worried that my adult dog would not like the puppy, and that my puppy would not bond with my older dog. Thankfully both dogs got along beautifully. Poe followed his big brother, Revan, around and mimicked the older dog’s behavior.
When we brought Poe to puppy class, it was interesting to see how he interacted with other dogs. Initially, the puppies were social butterflies. They greeted and played with whichever puppy was around them. As Poe matured, it was very obvious that there were some puppy friends he preferred to play with and other dogs that he no longer showed interest in. Every play group Poe attended, he would pick one dog that he would solely play with.
The preferred playmate was definitely not his older brother. My older dog also appeared to play with other dogs. If we attended the same play group, training class or daycare, Poe and Revan always sought to play with certain dogs.
You can tell that Poe was excited to see his puppy friends based on his body language. His ears were forward, and he had soft eyes with a relaxed facial expression, stance and tail. Another dog also reacted with similar body language. The two dog best friends would play for hours, chasing each other and wrestling. They would even drink water together and lie down side by side.
This was a huge development because when Poe initially started puppy class, he would growl when other puppies approached the water bowl. It was a big deal that he did not mind sharing his water bowl with his dog best friend.
Are Dog Best Friends Common?
It is not an uncommon finding to see pups extend dog companionship to preferred playmates and also have other dog friends hang out with, very similar to human behavior. Based on studies of animals living in natural conditions, we know that social animals can develop bonds with other pack or herd members other than their mates.
How Dogs Benefit From Having Dog Best Friends
The presence of BFFs, or preferred associates, can reduce stress and can provide some degree of comfort and safety to an animal living in a group. Animals with preferred associates tend to exhibit less aggressive behavior towards their companion. They do tend to be more tolerant of their companion’s presence compared to other animals in the group or unfamiliar animals.
Some dogs have a preferred play style, and no matter where they are—at a dog park, daycare or your friend’s house—they gravitate more towards other dogs that play similarly.
Does Your Dog Have a Best Friend?
How do you know when your dog has a BFF? Dogs with dog best friends prefer to stay in closer proximity with the other animal. They ignore the other dogs and tend to play more or spend more time in general with their dog best friend. They may be more willing to share their toys, bed, water bowl and general space. Sometimes they may be willing to share their favorite dog treats or dog food, but that is not always the case. Some dogs can have BFFs, but can still be reluctant to share a highly valued resource such as their favorite dog toys, treat, bed or owner.
Keep in mind that BFFs do not always have to be other dogs. I have seen dogs develop deep attachments to the cat in the household. They can even become attached to the neighbor’s cat or your rabbit or guinea pig. In fact, you could be your dog’s best friend.