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 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?
Many dogs bond hardest to whoever cares for them during their key socialization period, which occurs between birth and six 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 who aren’t exposed to people wearing hats may become afraid of hats later in life. I didn’t get Radar until he was six 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 them, don’t worry: it’s not too late to become their favorite. While early experiences are important, continued socialization throughout their life matters a lot! Click here to learn more about how to socialize your dog.
Now, I’ve already disclosed the fact that my own dog prefers someone who isn’t their 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 person. If a person is stand-offish towards a dog, the dog will be stand-offish towards them. But if you give your dog plenty of pets, 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 pitbull in my lap. My brother, on the other hand, is happy to roughhouse and let Radar crawl all over him. No wonder Radar does backflips (sometimes literally) whenever he sees Jacob.