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  • In the Company of Wolves: compensatory attachments and the human-dog bond

    Penny Spikins

    Chapter from the book: Spikins, P. 2022. Hidden Depths: The Origins of Human Connection.

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    Why are we able to form such an intense emotional bond with other animals, such as dogs, despite them being so different from ourselves in so many ways? In this chapter, we consider the human emotional vulnerabilities that drove our close relationships with canids. We explore how an understanding of compensatory attachments can provide a new perspective on the inclusion of wolves into human societies, and the significance of their dog descendants to our emotional wellbeing today.

    We first explore the roles of dogs in present hunting and gathering societies, and the potential significance of bringing wolf companions into our emotional lives. We find that, whilst there are considerable cultural differences, dogs and people have a capacity to form remarkably strong bonds, and dogs can take up a sometimes-uncomfortable position as almost human.

    We then ask whether the domestication of wolves may have been more influenced by human emotional needs than we may have currently assumed. Whilst we tend to view the domestication of wolves as a process engineered by humans, and indicative of our particular elevated capabilities or intelligence, our emotional vulnerability and capacity to make compensatory attachment may have had a key role to play.

    A closer consideration of our shared evolutionary history reveals that wolves and humans share a deep past of becoming incrementally closer to each other in terms of social emotional motivations. As we have seen in Part 1, selection pressures over the last 2 million years moved human emotional motivations closer to those of highly collaborative social carnivores such as wolves, whilst, as we have seen in Chapters 4 and 5, the period 300,000 to 30,000 years ago brought new capacities to make novel relationships, and new emotional vulnerabilities. During this period, the emotional motivations of wolves seem to have moved closer to those of humans through living in close proximity.

    Wolf domestication is, perhaps, best seen as a two-way process in which each species moved to fill an emotional gap in each other’s lives.

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    Spikins, P. 2022. In the Company of Wolves: compensatory attachments and the human-dog bond. In: Spikins, P, Hidden Depths. York: White Rose University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.22599/HiddenDepths.h

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    Published on Aug. 23, 2022