Companion Dogs as Surrogate Family Members and the Compensation Hypothesis

Marcos Díaz Videla


The belief that bonding with companion animals seeks to substitute for human relationships has been widely held as common knowledge, receiving partial support even by scientific literature. This study aimed to assess the effect of compensation of lacking human bonds (i.e., partner and children) through bonding with companion dogs. For this, 425 adults living in Buenos Aires, who own a companion dog, filled out a form about Perceived Emotional Closeness and another one about anthropomorphism towards dogs. The fact of having children, regardless of the cohabitation with them and the guardian’s marital status, was linked to lower scores of emotional closeness; however, there were no differences in terms of the levels of dog’s anthropomorphism between guardians who lived with a couple or not, between those who had children or not, neither between those who lived with their children or not. Furthermore, among parent guardians, there was no difference in the levels of Anthropomorphism and Perceived Emotional Closeness in relationship with their children’s age. We concluded that dogs seem to have their own particular role within their guardian’s close circle of relationships, instead of competing with human family roles. Guardians who consider their dog as a child would not imply the substitution for absent children. For these guardians, this consideration would be rather related to their affection towards the dog. The differences in the emotional closeness among guardians with or without children are discussed according to a possible attitudinal change, after parenthood, that would lead to a lower interspecies affective permeability. Considering the particular role of dogs in the guardian’s emotional circle can lead us to the appraisal of the differential aspects of this interspecies relationship with positive consequences for both, humans and dogs.

Palabras clave

anthropomorphism, companion animal; dogs; emotional closeness; family


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