Have you ever met a dog who is fun, smart, and friendly – but who seemed to have no real interest in humans, or at least, you in particular? Perhaps this sort of dog is right for some occupations, and perfect for some people, but for me, a dog with “affiliative” behaviors is a must. I like dogs who like people!
I’m not alone, either. When I help someone find and select a new dog for his or her family, I ask them to write a list of attributes that they really want in a dog, things they would like to have (but aren’t deal-breakers), and things they really do not want. If their lists look thin, I ask them questions to try to spark a little more discrimination. My motivation is simple: If they are going to commit the next 10 to 15 years of sharing their lives with this dog, it should be a good fit. Nine times out of 10, what most “pet dog” people want is a dog who behaves as though he likes them, and wants to be with them. If a dog can make a person feel cared for, or as is they are being paid attention to, the person can often overlook a LOT of other behavioral or health deficiencies in the dog.
However, I’ve found that it’s not all that common to find dogs who have an overabundance of this trait – and it’s a shame, because if they need to be rehomed, the trait can literally save their lives. It’s a fact that shelter and rescue workers are attracted to and work a lot harder for dogs who behave as if they LOVE people. And really, why wouldn’t we? They are easier to place than any other type of dog.
This is another reason why I like and promote training methods that are based on positive reinforcement: they really help puppies and young dogs form positive associations with humans. And in the end, for most of us who truly love dogs, it really is all about our relationship with our dogs. Trying to re-home a dog who naturally behaves as if he loves people is a million times easier than trying to find a home for one who is scared and distrustful of humans – or even one who seems friendly, but who has no special affinity for people, other than as bringers of food and throwers of balls. The kind of dog who wants nothing more than to climb into almost anyone’s lap and spend the rest of the day there – truly affiliative dogs – are like gold coins, welcome everywhere.