As dog owners, we feel like our dogs are supposed to love us as we love them. While dogs loving their owners might sound like something humans make up, dog behavior often proves that our canine friends truly care about us. In fact, studies have confirmed that most dog bites happen to strangers and not dog owners.
Why is this?
Dogs don’t bite their owners because they develop a special bond of love and affection toward them. This connection is supported by brain chemicals like oxytocin, dog familiarity with their owner through odor and voice, and the bond of attachment that causes positive behavior toward owners.
If you’re interested in the scientific facts that support your dog’s love for you, then you couldn’t be in a better place. Read on as we examine why dogs rarely (if ever) bite their owners.
How Dogs Know Not To Bite Their Owners
Dogs are generally taught not to bite through training. This often begins with the mother dog when puppies nip one another, and is reinforced by dog owners.
During puppyhood, owners train their dogs in bite inhibition by producing a sharp sound of pain to alert their pooch that what they did hurts. Other owners use episodes of absence or withdrawal of rewards when their dog bites to make them associate biting with negative experiences.
But the explanation of how dogs know not to bite their owners may have an insight beyond training.
Dog owners provide care to their furry friends through play and feeding from when they are puppies. The rewarding experiences derived from playing and food create a special bond between the dog and the owner.
With time, your dog begins to reciprocate your care by protecting and showing you gesture of affection. As a result, owners become a dog’s favorite person, the one who is associated with positive experiences.
Dogs don’t bite their favorite person. Instead, they’ll show affection and protection towards you by:
- Getting excited when they see and smell you or hear your voice
- Bringing you items important to them such as toys or prey
- Guarding you while you eat, work, sleep, or during walks
- Rubbing themselves on you, cuddling with you, or sitting and sleeping close to you
- Making eye contact when interacting with you
- Portraying tail-wagging or licking you when you come home
- Following you everywhere
In their own way, dogs know better than biting the hand that feeds them. Although your dog may put their mouth on you, it is usually a show of affection. In these cases, your furry friend practices safe mouthing learned through bite inhibition training.
So, if your dog associates you with positive care experiences, it will not bite you. In this regard, science has found some solid reasons why dogs build strong bonds with their owner and why most dogs will not bite their owners.
Science-based Reasons Why Most Dogs Never Bite Their Owners
The bond of friendship between dogs and humans has been established for centuries through domestication. Dogs’ closeness to humans has allowed us to study a lot about them, including the reasons why they behave one way with their owners and differently with strangers.
Studies have established that certain dog experiences keep them from biting their owners. We discuss 3 of these experiences.
Dogs Love their Owners
A loving dog is not human imagination. Studies have shown that dogs can love and show affection. The emotion of love in dogs is supported by these factors:
- Dogs have brain structures similar to those responsible for emotions in humans.
- Like humans, dogs experience the same chemical changes produced by emotional states.
- Dogs produce the love hormone oxytocin, just like humans. This hormone increases their motivation to interact with humans and other dogs or animals positively.
You would expect that a dog will project their feeling of love to humans that they associate with positive experiences. Owners top the list of a dog’s most loved persons, supporting why they will not want to harm them by biting.
Dogs Can Distinguish Their Owners From Unfamiliar Persons
Dogs are more likely to show aggression toward unfamiliar persons. Familiar persons, such as their owners, are known to the dog and are usually associated with positive experiences.
But how do dogs recognize people they know? Sight and sound play a key role. However, dogs mostly know their owner through smell. That is how they can tell you are on your way home even before you get there.
Studies have shown that dogs have a positive association with the odor of familiar persons. Smelling or hearing the voice of the owner or a familiar person has a positive effect on a dog’s emotions.
When dogs smell the familiar odor of their owner, the center of their brain’s reward system is activated. This reaction is the same that happens when dogs have pleasurable experiences. Surprisingly, this pleasurable reaction is less prominent when dogs encounter familiar conspecifics, or members of the same species.
We can easily deduce that dogs will not bite their owner if their presence and smell make them happy. That may not be the case when dogs encounter strangers who stimulate fear and insecurity.
You may have noticed as a dog owner that there are certain people your dog just doesn’t like. This is certainly the case with my Labrador Retriever, Blanco. Labs are known as one of the friendliest breeds. As such, they tend to like everyone. There have been a few individuals, however, that Blanco has clearly conveyed after his initial check out routine that he doesn’t like them or want in our home.
Dogs Build a Secure Attachment to Their Owners
Another way scientists have helped us know why most dogs never bite their owners is through the attachment theory.
Attachment is the close emotional bond created between a pair of individuals. This emotional bond is mostly studied among humans. However, studies between dogs and their owners have revealed an analogy between how infants bond with their caregivers and dogs with their owners.
Praise and the mere presence of the owner have been found to elicit a rewarding emotional experience in dogs. In turn, positive emotions promote affective states and positive behavior output.
The findings have also shown that dogs with higher attachment scores show greater preference for their owners than other persons.
All this information would lead us to conclude that dogs who are positively attached to their owners are unlikely to bite them. The presence and interaction with the owner produce positive behavior like licking and tail wagging but not aggressive behavior like biting.
Does your dog show you gestures of love and affection and never bite you? Be glad!
Dogs that never bite their owners have established strong bonds of connection with them. This bond happens through repeated pleasurable experiences between the dog and the owner.
As a result, your dog loves you, recognizes you as a favorite person, and is closely attached to you. In other words, you are not a bite target for your dog.
Dogs, however, surprise us sometimes. In fact, most of us know of dog owners that have been bitten by their dogs. For example, a family member has a poodle mix that has bitten his owner twice when she has taken away a favorite toy that needed to be taken. The American Veterinary Medical Association explains dogs sometimes bite to protect something valuable to them, among other reasons.
Regular readers know that I had a terrible time stopping my dog from biting me when Blanco would suddenly go off into a playful but aggressive zoom complete with nipping my arms repeatedly.
Therefore, it’s always wise to execise caution with our furry friends, even though we know most dogs never bite their owners. Just like our human friends, we simply cannot always know what our dogs are thinking or why they do what they do at times.