Woman and Labrador

The owner and dog relationship are mostly described in human terms without us knowing how the dog would describe it.

The relationship between dog and owner

Defining the relationship between a Labrador and any other dog and its owner is often based on owner perception and dog behavior.

The owner and dog relationship

Owners unwittingly base their perceptions on factors such as what the breed is said to represent or their motivation for getting a dog.

People get dogs that fill a need in their lives such as an assistance dog (Labradors), a dog for the children, a guard dog, a lapdog to fight loneliness, a hunting dog and the like. Most dog breeds have a label attached to them based on how people experience their behavior or what they were bred to be.

Many dog breeds carry strong labels or associations such as Pitbulls (aggression), Retrievers (good-natured), German Shepherds (law enforcement) and Labradors (family and assistance dogs).

Owners can unwittingly influence their dog’s behavior by their own actions. Owners with inaccurate perceptions or misguided actions toward their dogs may contribute to misbehaving dogs.

Valuable research has been done into the dog-owner relationship and how it changes over time based on a number of factors.

One could safely say that the owner-dog relationship is often based more on emotion than fact while the dog-owner relationship is based more on practical considerations. It is always founded on the own/possess arrangement.

People often choose their dogs based on how they feel about the dog and their emotional needs such as companionship, while dogs probably would choose an owner that will ensure they are well-fed and provided with safety. The latter is then based on practicalities or tangibles while the former is based on intangibles.

Dog-owner relationship

The dog-owner relationship has been researched and two phases identified.

Motivational phase

Potential dog owners who never owned a dog are in the motivational phase that is based on their expectations and not experience.

Their expectations of the advantages of dog ownership such as companionship and sacrifices such as caring for the dog will determine whether they will acquire a dog.

Experience phase

Once they acquire a dog their expectations are tested against reality and they are in the experience phase.

In the experience phase, a positive experience may strengthen the conviction of having made the right decision while a negative experience may lead to regret.

The experience phase of dog ownership lasts about six months. After six months, expectations and beliefs settle and very little change takes place in the views of the owners.

The Owner and Dog relationship: perceptions

When you become a dog owner, your life changes immediately because you get the added responsibility of an animal in the house.

Many people get a dog for a specific purpose and then expect the dog to fulfil that purpose to the exclusion of any other needs the dog may have, or purposes it could fulfil.

Despite the main purpose the owner has in mind, any breed of dog will also play other roles in the life of the owner.

Dogs acquired as guard dogs may also be companions. Companion dogs may also fulfil the role of guard dogs. Assistance dogs may play the role of a lifesaver.

The dog has a profound influence on the life of the owner, but the owners have an even bigger influence on the existence of the dog.

We must keep in mind that dogs live mainly in the human world. Even when dogs play together or live together, they do it in a world designed by humans.

We must always keep in mind that the emotions, responsibilities, and expectations that dictate the human/dog relationship are based almost exclusively on the “human view”, meaning that humans articulate the content of the relationship. Dogs cannot articulate in a way that they could “explain” in language to their owners what they expect.

Dog owners depend almost entirely on other sources to know how to look after and interact with their dogs. Dog nutrition specialists tell us what food is good for our dogs.

Dog behaviorists tell us what specific dog behavior means.

We depend on interpreting our dogs’ behavior to know what they want. In none of these instances can the dog communicate in human terms with us.

Dogs can only behave in a certain way and trust that we will interpret it correctly.


Dog-owner relationships are much more complicated than just the concept of nature vs nurture or genetics (instinct) vs the environment (learning).

We must keep in mind that the owner-dog relationship is heavily biased in favor of the human owner’s interpretation of situations or behavior.

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to non-human entities, including animals.

Many owners will testify that they can see whether their dog misbehaved in their absence by the dog’s behavior. Research provides no scientific proof of this.

One thing is clear and that is that we don’t know everything about the owner and dog relationship because there is much more to learn in the absence of the dog’s ability to tell us in a language we understand.

It may just be that we will only be able to communicate properly with our dogs once we develop the ability to communicate on a different level of consciousness.

More reading:
Understanding why dogs bark