Is Your Dog a Pet, Friend of Family Member?

Is your dog a pet, friend or family member? What kind of relationship do you have with your dog?

Dogs fill so many needs for us human beings. They are willing companions that allow us to train them to help us, amuse us and protect us. They serve many functions in our lives. They are willing to surrender and submit and allow us to mold their behaviors to serve us. Why? Because dogs by nature are loyal, pack animals who survive by doing what is best for the pack and therefore their own well-being.

As a professional pet sitter, I am invited into many families to become a part of their pet’s lives. It is an honor I hold dear. From this unique vantage point, I get to witness hundreds of relationships between humans and their canine companions. It is interesting to see how one person dotes on their dog while another relegates theirs to being a back yard dog. I am fascinated by the range of relationships people have with their dogs. Some of them have a clear idea and set of boundaries with their dogs and others have none and let their dog run the household. In either case, are they a pet, friend or family member?

Webster’s 9th New Collegiate Dictionary defines a pet as “a domesticated animal kept for pleasure rather than utility.” If we relate to our dog as something we have around for our own amusement and pleasure that doesn’t serve any other purpose, than we have a pet dog. They are in our lives to add joy and entertainment to our lives. We have brought them into our lives for our own enjoyment and no other reason. In that case, I will freely admit that my three dogs are, in fact, my pets. They do amuse me and bring me much pleasure.

For some people however, a dog is just a dog. And although they love their pet dog, they do not consider them of any higher status than a pet. They are not a friend. They are not family. KOA They are an endeared pet, who is loved but considered of lower status. For others, their pets are friends to be cherished and treated as such.

A friend is defined as, “one attached to another by affection or esteem; a favored companion.” Here again, I would have to admit that my relationship with my own dogs would fall into this category. They are my favored companions with whom I am attached by affection and esteem. We spend quality time together, cuddling, playing, going for walks and hikes because we all enjoy each other’s company. I look forward to spending time with them. Often times, I choose them over the company of other people because their presence in my life relieves me of stress and soothes my soul. I look forward to seeing them and spending time together at the end of a long and busy day.

And even though, they are my friends as well as my pets, I am the one who determines what the relationship will be with my intent and behavior. So, I have established the friendship with my pets in the way that I have chosen to relate to them. Our interaction has defined what kind of relationship my dogs and I have with each other. I relate to them as if they are my pets and friends and they respond according to how I treat them. Although I establish the tone of our relationship, it is a reciprocal relationship. And of course, we have a lot of fun together, which is what friends do with each other. Not necessarily so with family. Friends we choose, family we are born into without choice, right? Maybe, maybe not.

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