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My dog loves me, but he loooooves my youngest brother, Jacob. It’s not even a contest: Put my brother and me on opposite ends of a room, and Radar will always run to Jacob first. It’s funny and mystifying at the same time. After all, I’m the one who raised Radar, and I take care of him every day. I feed him, walk him, let him sleep on my bed … but when Jacob comes for a visit, it’s like I cease to exist.
So sometimes, a dog’s favorite person is not always their primary caregiver. How do dogs choose their favorite person? And is it possible to change their minds?
Of course, every dog is different, but some generalizations apply. Read on to learn all about how dogs choose their preferred people.
1. Socialization Matters
Many dogs bond hardest to whoever cares for them during their key socialization period, which occurs between birth and 6 months. At this age, puppies’ brains are incredibly receptive, and their early social experiences influence them for the rest of their lives. That’s why it’s so important to ensure your puppy has positive interactions with a wide range of people, places and things.
For example, dogs that aren’t exposed to people wearing hats may become afraid of hats later in life. I didn’t get Radar until he was 6 months old, so I don’t know exactly what his early socialization experiences were like. However, he tends to prefer men, which leads me to believe he had more positive, formative experience with male caretakers.
If your dog was already an adult when you adopted it, don’t worry — it’s not too late to become his favorite! While early experiences are important, continued socialization throughout their life matters a lot. Daily walks, trips to the dog park and exposure to a variety of people are all methods for helping your dog with socialization.
2. Attention (And Affection) Increases Bond
Now, I’ve already disclosed the fact that my own dog prefers someone who isn’t his primary caregiver. But most dogs tend to bond to the person who gives them the most attention. For example, in a family with two parents and two kids, the dog may favor the parent who fills their bowl every morning and takes them for a walk every evening.
In addition, physical affection solidifies the bond between dog and human. If a person is standoffish toward a dog, the dog will be standoffish toward them. But if you give your dog plenty of rubs, grooming sessions, massages and love, they are likely to seek out more.
For some dogs, it’s not just the amount of attention and affection that matter, but the quality. My dog Radar spends most of his time with me, but I can be a bit reserved and strict about allowing 40 pounds of pit bull in my lap. My brother, on the other hand, is happy to roughhouse and lets Radar crawl all over him. No wonder Radar does backflips (sometimes literally) whenever he sees Jacob.
3. Positive Association Is Key
Beyond the attention of their favorite people, dogs play favorites depending on associations. In other words, when a person is the source of good stuff, the dog forms a bond.
When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Of course, a dog is going to love the person who always plays tug of war or gives them loads of their favorite stinky beef liver treat. They also know that the person who feeds them most often is a pretty important player in their lives!
On the flip side, dogs often react poorly to people with whom they have bad associations (you’ll never catch Radar making friends with a vet). Positive associations lead to positive dog-human relationships. You can use positive association to help in training and socializing your dog.
For example, whenever somebody new comes to my house, I have them meet the dogs in the yard and give them treats. This establishes an immediate positive association (new person = tasty treats) that helps ease the introduction.
4. Human Personality And Dog Breed Play A Part
Have you ever met a dog that looks and behaves a lot like their person? The saying “like attracts like” applies to dogs and people, too. Dogs often choose a favorite person who matches their own energy level and personality. I’ve certainly found that my more reserved, cautious dog is more closely bonded to me, while my more outgoing, boisterous dog is very attached to my more active brother.
In addition, some dog breeds are more likely to bond with a single person, making it more likely that their favorite person will be their only person. Breeds that tend to bond strongly to one person include:
- Shiba Inu
- Cairn Terrier
How To Become Your Dog’s Favorite
If you have the feeling you’re not your dog’s favorite person, don’t despair. You can improve and increase the bond between you. The easiest (and most fun) way is to spend at least 30 minutes of focused, one-on-one time together each day. This doesn’t include walks, yard time or watching TV together. Your bonding time should be active and focused.
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 can work together as a team.
- Food (in healthy, appropriate quantities) is love. Aim for wholesome protein sources with limited fillers, and try some homemade meals for your dog. Make mealtime a bonding activity by integrating eye contact.
- 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 sometimes acts more excited to see your brother).
Written by Elisabeth Geier for Rover.