Dogs are ‘man’s best friend’ — because of women, study shows

PULLMAN, Wash. — Dogs might be called man’s best friend, but a new study finds our four-legged companions may enjoy a lady’s company better. Researchers from Washington State University say several factors throughout history played a role in connecting humans with dogs. While climate and hunting may be obvious factors in the bonding process, another is apparently gender.

“We found that dogs’ relationships with women might have had a greater impact on the dog-human bond than relationships with men,” says WSU anthropology Ph.D. student Jaime Chambers in a university release. “Humans were more likely to regard dogs as a type of person if the dogs had a special relationship with women. They were more likely to be included in family life, treated as subjects of affection and generally, people had greater regard for them.”

Dogs and humans are like peanut-butter and jelly, it’s hard to remember a time when the two weren’t together. Researchers say dogs are the oldest, most widespread domesticated animal in history. Despite this, the WSU team says few studies have explored the duo’s long bond.

The study examined data coming from over 844 ethnographers who had studied 144 societies around the world. The team was hoping to find clues of how this relationship between dogs and man developed.

“Our modern society is like a blip in the timeline of human history,” Chambers explains. “The truth is that human-dog relationships have not looked like they do in Western industrialized societies for most of human history, and looking at traditional societies can offer a wider vision.”

Where did dogs find their usefulness?

The researchers discovered specific instances where dogs proved to be very helpful for humans as well as the other way around. Study authors also uncovered times throughout history where dogs gained a measure of “personhood;” when humans treated them more like people by giving them names, having them sleep in the same bed, and mourning their passing.

They also discovered a trend throughout time showing that when women are more involved with dogs, a human’s usefulness to dogs increased. The amount of personhood dogs received also increased during these interactions.

Hunting, climate plays a role

Another connection the WSU team finds is dogs become less of a factor in human life in warmer climates.

“Relative to humans, dogs are really not particularly energy efficient,” says WSU anthropology professor and corresponding author Robert Quinlan. “Their body temperature is higher than humans, and just a bit of exercise can make them overheat on a hot day. We saw this trend that they had less utility to humans in warmer environments.”

While there are a few exceptions in some tropical locations, the study finds dogs historically find their place with humans when it’s cold. They also share a deep connection through hunting.

Cultures that took dogs hunting tended to value their four-legged friends more, both from a usefulness and personhood standpoint. The value of dogs as hunting partners declined however as food production increased, either through livestock farms or growing crops. Quinlan notes that this discovery throws off some of the belief that herding dogs form a close bond with humans. The researchers add that, in these cases, herding dogs tend to work alone on the farm without much human interaction.

The researchers say their study points to the belief that humans and dogs chose each other, rather than humans domesticating wolf pups to raise as pets.

“Dogs are everywhere humans are,” Chambers concludes. “If we think that dogs are successful as a species if there are lots of them, then they have been able to thrive. They have hitched themselves to us and followed us all over the world. It’s been a very successful relationship.”

The study appears in the Journal of Ethnobiology.