Are Dogs the New Kids?

by Sundays

Let’s take a look at the role dogs play in our lives and what dogs actually think about it.

For us, the answer is simple. Dogs are part of the family, and they are your kids. It doesn’t matter how old they are–from the wobbly-legged, new-to-the world puppies to the scruffy, ride-or-die silver-haired senior dogs, they will always be your babies.

Of course, not everyone agrees. You can’t bring your four-legged kid to the grocery store or certain hotels and plenty of other places that human kids can go. But that doesn’t make them any less a part of the family. 

If you treat your dog like your kid, you’re far from alone. Plenty of people opt to just have pets instead of kids, or have always treated their pets as their other children. But what do dogs think about all of this? Do they think they are our babies? 

Let’s take a look at the role dogs play in our lives and what dogs actually think about it.

Can Dogs Replace Babies?

It used to be that people called themselves “pet owners,” but now, many prefer the term “pet parent.” And when it comes to Gen Z and Millennials, they may actually prefer being pet parents rather than caring for tiny humans. In a recent study, seven in 10 Gen Z adults said they would rather care for a pet than children

Millennials aren’t far behind, with 58% saying they would rather take on pet parenting than human parenting. In fact, Millennials spend more money on their pets than any other age group, and just like a parent would do for their children, they would go to great lengths to get lifesaving treatment for their pets, from getting a second job to selling their laptop, car, or even their most prized possession.

So it’s pretty safe to say that the younger generations, especially, have embraced the idea of caring for a dog rather than a baby, and they would pretty much do anything for them.

Do Dogs Think They Are Our Babies?

We might think of dogs as our babies, but do they feel the same way about us? Well, they don’t literally think we are their dog parents. They can recognize that we are not dogs and are a different species altogether. 

But yes, they do understand that our relationship to them is that of a caretaker or parental role, and they seek out our attention, comfort, and protection just as children would with a parent. 

If you need proof, think back to the last time you took your dog for a walk and noticed their unwavering stare deep into your eyes as they were pooping. Why do they maintain this awkward eye contact at that particular moment? They’re actually looking to you to “cover them” and provide protection from any danger while they are in a compromised position. They think of you as their family members looking out for them.

To take things even further, a study revealed that dogs form attachments to their pet parents in very similar ways as babies do with parents. Like children, they seek out the person they’ve attached to–their pet parents–when they are stressed. When you’re not around, your pup may also get upset or miss you to the point that it could turn into separation anxiety. 

They can also experience the “secure base effect” just like human children. This is when a child, or your dog, has formed a secure enough attachment to their parent that they feel safe enough to explore a new toy or room on their own when you are around. Pets that are not securely attached reacted in similar ways as children who were not securely attached to their parents. 

Overall, you play the role of the ultimate caregiver, whether it’s providing their food and treats, taking them for walks, keeping them healthy, and spending time bonding with them, and dogs very much understand this bond.

Should We Treat Dogs Like Babies?

So, if we see our dogs as kids, and they see us as a sort of parent, does that mean we should treat them like we would babies or kids? Or do we need to respect their dog-ness?

This is a tricky one. In terms of giving them unconditional love and attention and taking care of them, that’s all well and good. But there may be areas where we need to remember that dogs are a different species and have specific needs. 

In a survey of over 900 pet owners, those who did not also have human children had a pretty good understanding of investing the same time and level of care, but in ways that were appropriate for dogs. In other words, they were meeting their species-specific needs by doing things like taking them on scent walks and giving them snuffle mats to forage. 

The point is that dogs can be your kids, as long as you remember their doggy needs when it comes to nutrition, exercise, training, and enrichment.

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