If you’re of a certain age, you may remember The Smothers Brothers television show, with Tommy Smothers always berating his brother, Dick, that “Mom always liked you best!” I have come to realize, through personal experience, that liking someone best also applies to our pets and that special someone they choose to cuddle up to the most.

When we first adopted our dog from Animatch nine years ago, I naturally assumed that I would be his number one since we formed this bond at the centre and I was the one who carried him out of there and brought him home. But as time went by, I noticed that my husband was met with the most enthusiastic jumps and tail wags when he walked in the door and wherever he went, “my” little dog would follow. The only time our pooch would get excited to see me was at feeding time and I would otherwise get an “Oh, it’s you” acknowledgement when I came home.

Things are pretty much the same today and even though I am his primary caregiver, this is mystifying to say the least. This made me wonder how and why our pets choose one particular individual in a household to be their special someone and is there anything the ignored ones can do to get a little more pet love.

Every dog is different, but some generalizations apply. Many dogs bond hardest to whomever cares for them during their key socialization period which is usually between birth and six months. This is when puppies’ brains are incredibly receptive, and their early social experiences influence them for the rest of their lives. Positive interactions with people, places and things are key at this stage of life.

If you have adopted an adult dog and give it the most attention, chances are it will form the strongest bond with you, but this is not guaranteed. Physical affection solidifies the bond between dog and person. If you are standoffish toward a dog it will likely be the same with you. Dogs have a keen sense of knowing who is friend and who is foe. For some dogs, it’s not just the amount of attention and affection that matter but the quality. Some dogs will gravitate towards someone who gives them massages and cuddles and others prefer someone who will roughhouse with them. Dogs tend to play favourites depending on associations with humans and if you are the source of good stuff, such as playtime, treats and meals, they’ll keep coming back for more. On the flipside, dogs often react poorly to people with whom they have bad associations, like the veterinarian or groomer.

Dogs often choose a favourite person who matches their own energy level and personality. In addition, some dog breeds are inclined to bond to one single person making it more likely that their favourite person will be their only person. A few breeds that tend to do this are: Basenji, Greyhound, Shiba Inu and Cairn Terrier.

If you have the feeling that you’re not your dog’s number one human, don’t despair. Try spending at least 30 minutes per day on focused, one on one time and this excludes walks, yard time and watching TV together. Here are a few bonding activities to engage in with your dog:

  • Play fetch, tug or hide and seek.
  • Have a training session. Working on new skills or reinforcing old ones is a great way to bond.
  • Try a sport like agility or flyball where you and your dog work together as a team.
  • Food (in healthy, appropriate quantities) is love.
  • Give your dog a grooming session or massage.

Bonding occurs naturally between dogs and the people who treat them well. Take good care of your dog, socialize him, give him positive experiences and respect his unique personality. He’ll reward you with a lifetime of love even if he acts more excited to see your spouse!

Judie Amyot is a volunteer with Animatch, a non-profit dog adoption service. For more information, visit www.animatch.ca


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