By Cheryl Lock
Anyone who has ever owned a dog can tell you: our canine companions are way more than just pets.
“From the time we bring home a puppy that is a furry bundle of joy, dogs become part of our families,” says Dr. Mary Burch, animal behaviorist and director of the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen program. “They grow up with our children, move through phases of our lives with us…and when it comes time to tell them goodbye for the last time, we mourn over them just as we would human family members.”
Here are 10 surefire signs that your dog is part of the family.
Not all pet parents let their dogs sleep in their bed, but those who do believe it creates a closer bond. “When a dog sleeps in your bed, the dog follows your routines about the time to go to bed and get up,” Burch says. “There may be a closer bond because the dog is with you eight more hours during a 24-hour day. Guard dogs can keep one eye open to watch out for you as you sleep, and if your dog is not feeling well or is not yet house-trained, you are there when the dog indicates a trip outside is needed.”
Anything that keeps your pet close to you is sure to improve your bond, and sharing couch time is no different. “Dogs who have a special spot on the couch are right nearby to receive pets and hugs from you,” Burch says. Of course, all dogs enjoy (and benefit) from exercise, Burch adds, so playing and trips to the park are important too, but touch and social contact with their owners are powerful reinforcers.
It may seem silly to some when we lavish our pets with presents on their birthdays, but this is just one more indicator that dogs are part of the family. “Those of us who love our dogs come to know what they like, and we can choose that perfect stuffed animal with a squeaker, a ball to replace a favorite one that is worn out, or a tasty treat the dog loves,” Burch says. As an added bonus, many of the gifts we give our dogs are used for playtime and games, which only enhance the bond between dog and human.
Dogs like to communicate using their body language and are often happier when not wearing clothes 24/7. However, sartorially savvy dog owners can show their pup affection by showering them with weather-appropriate attire, such as a coat and boots when it’s snowing outside, Burch says.
When people go on vacation, they enjoy spending quality time with loved ones. For many, that includes the family dog. “A vacation without the dog means that many of us will be on the beach worrying about the dog in the kennel back home,” Burch says. “Bringing a dog on vacation means that we can do activities to include our dogs and enhance our bonds with them. Swimming, hiking, canoeing, and other similar active activities are fun, and our dogs are happiest when they can join in the fun with us.”
Buying a house a big decision that affects all members of your family, including the furry ones. Many pet parents often take yard size, type of flooring, number of stairs (particularly if you have an older dog), and proximity to parks into consideration, says Sarah Wilson, a New Hampshire-based dog trainer and author. It’s important that everyone feels comfortable in their new space, so considering your dog’s needs as well only makes sense.
Including your dog in family photos and signing her name on holiday cards signals to others that, “My dog is important to me, she is a part of our family, and we include her in holidays,” Burch says. This conveys an attitude about where your dog fits into your life, she adds. “You will always include and look after her.”
Dogs—like people—often have food preferences, and, just like us, they also love tasty treats. “While all dogs should be on a healthy canine diet—including premium foods with the proper nutrients—if we cook special healthy food items, we are sure to be dog’s best friend,” Burch says. Healthy human food treats for dogs include small pieces of cooked lean meat and eggs, as well as well-washed fruits and vegetables. Avoid grapes and raisins, though. They can be toxic to dogs.
Actions speak louder than words, Burch says. When we go out of our way to ensure our dog’s health, safety, and quality of life through regular checkups, training, and stimulating activities, the result is a dog who feels happy and enriched.
Again, there’s really no better way to bond with your dog than regular petting sessions. If your dog enjoys cuddles, feel free to load up on those as well. “No matter how big your dog is, they can still always sit on your lap,” Wilson says. But you probably already knew that.