Time Magazine made me buy by putting an adorable photo of two dogs on the cover for a story called “The Surprising Science of Animal Friendships.” While it was an interesting read, the cover was a bait and switch since the article dealt primarily with animals in the wild, not domesticated pets. Plus the few mentions it made of dogs were to *dismiss* the notion of canine friendships!
“True animal friendship,” the article states, “is not about the neighborhood dogs’ playing and wrestling when their owners take them to the park any more than true human friendship is about the pickup soccer game a group of kids play in an adjacent field … Animal friendship is about enduring bonds defined by sharing, sacrificing, and when circumstances warrant it, grieving.” It goes on to state that while dogs do form friendship-type relationships with other dogs, scientists note a lack of evidence in dogs of the “constancy, reciprocity and mutual defense observed in species such as chimpanzees and dolphins.”
No such thing as true dog friendship? I don’t buy it.
According to the article, the three keys of the scientific definition of friendship are constancy, reciprocity and mutual defense. That’s a fairly limited definition of friendship, but since the article is based on the findings of several scientific studies and not anecdotal stories, the aspects of animal friendships need to quantifiable … you can count the number of times a chimp shares a meal or guards against a predator with a companion, but you can’t exactly enumerate a chimp’s love for his buddy. Additionally, the friendship traits in the studies are helpful in the wild and not as critical for domesticated pets, particularly “mutual defense”, which means we’re not exactly on a level playing field to judge the strength of wild animal friendships against pet friendships.
I’m not going to take a shot at defining friendship as rigidly as the scientists in the article, but just because we can’t affix measurable terminology to canine friendship doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. I’ve seen many examples of dogs that seek out specific dog friends, dogs that share with their friends, frolic with them consistently and predictably, and if tragedy occurs, grieve those friends. I know that dog friendship exists beyond “amiable play,” and it’s as true and real as anything that’s happening out there in the jungle or ocean.
Do you agree? Or is dog friendship just wishful thinking on our part?