Dogs vary in how dependent they are on their human owners. Dogs are social animals, as are their wild counterparts, wolves. It is a dog's ability to form social attachments that makes him so desirable as a companion. All dogs need social contact to be happy, but some dogs are more stressed when denied that contact than others.
A gauge of a dog's independence is how he reacts to being left alone. The dependent dog is highly stressed in this situation and sometimes exhibits behavior problems such as barking, destructive chewing, and house soiling. He tries not to let you out of his sight when you are at home, following you from room to room.
The independent dog needs less human contact to be happy. He does not exhibit stress-related behavior when left alone, and while he is happy to see his owner return, he does not act as if he has been dying while his owner was gone. This is a useful trait for a dog who has to be left alone for long hours while his owners go to work.
Dependence is affected by both heredity and environmental factors. There are several different environmental factors. As a dog grows older, he usually becomes more independent. The presence of another dog provides social contact and decreases a dog's dependence on his owner.
A more complicated environmental factor revolves around the age at which a dog is removed from the litter. Dogs who are separated from their littermates before the age of six weeks are often more dependent, sometimes showing severe anxiety problems when separated from their owners. On the other hand, dogs who are not removed from the litter and exposed to human contact before 12 to 16 weeks of age may not bond well to a human and therefore may be more independent.
The hereditary nature of dependence is indicated by breed tendencies. As a general rule, hounds (both sight- and scenthounds), terriers, and the northern breeds are more independent. Chow Chows and Siberian Huskies are notorious examples of popular but independent breeds. Spaniels, retrievers, and herding breeds are more dependent. For instance, German Shepherds, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Golden Retrievers are examples of breeds generally having a dependent nature. Other breeds fall somewhere in between. When a breed was developed for doing a job that required submission to a human's direction, dependence was bred in as a desirable trait.
As with all personality traits, dependency affects training. Independence causes two main training problems. The first is that the independent dog is more difficult to motivate because he is not afraid of his owner's displeasure. In other words, he doesn't really care if he pleases his owner or not. While verbal praise may motivate a dependent dog to obey his owner's command, it will not be sufficient motivation for an independent dog. Food rewards are good motivation for independent dogs. The other common training problem with an independent dog is that off-leash control is difficult to establish because the independent dog has no natural inclination to stay close to his owner.
Puppy behavior testing gives a good indication of a dog's degree of dependency. Puppies who keep wandering away from the tester between and during tests are showing independence.
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Fundamentals of Dog and Puppy Training. Although dogs shouldn't be attributed with having human characteristics, they are intelligent enough to be able to understand the concept of, and execute, certain actions that their owners require of them - if these actions are asked in a way that dogs find rewarding.