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Social Life of Canines: Are Dogs Monogamous?

Updated on February 10, 2016
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Adrienne is a former veterinary hospital assistant, certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Are dogs monogamous animals?
Are dogs monogamous animals? | Source

Top 20 monogamous animals

Are dogs monogamous animals? You often see dogs invited to weddings, dressed up as bride and groom, yet they were never questioned about their beliefs on weddings and their moral thoughts about monogamy. While we have several romantic examples of animals that are monogamous such as swans, doves, bald eagles and wolves, it just seems natural to invite dogs to weddings as they are known for being symbols faithful, loyal companions. But are they the right animals to dress up as bride and groom? We'll see the answer to this in the next section, but first of all, let's look at what being monogamous really means and its implications on the social lives of our beloved companions.

Monogamy in a general sense of the word simply means having only one soul mate. It's the basis of our society, and for those who believe in a religious marriage it's a vow " till death do us apart." In the animal kingdom, a variety of mating systems abound. The most common form of monogamy we imagine in the animal world are animals who share their territory and form a social pair, living together, sharing resources and mating.

What makes some animals choose monogamy? It appears that monogamy may prove helpful in species that give birth to young that are particularly vulnerable and benefit from parental protection. However, there may be several other factors at play. Also, to burst the romantic bubble, several species known for being monogamous, actually may engage in "extra-marital affairs." So you may want to scrape the beautiful swans off the list of monogamous animals since research has demonstrated that they may occasionally flee the nest for some extramarital sex!

You may wonder at this point how widespread monogamy is in the animal world. Over 90 percent of avian species are considered socially monogamous, whereas, true monogamy is pretty rare in the world of mammals with only about 3 to 5 percent of them adhering to this social organization. So where do dogs stand? As promised, we'll see it in the next section.


Are Dogs Monogamous?

If we look at wild canids, we will often see males and females form a strong social bond. David Mech's studies on wolves revealed how the alpha male and the alpha female become a pair and are generally the only ones in the pack with reproductive rights. As described earlier, monogamy is a convenient strategy in animals with young that are very vulnerable. Canid pups are pretty much helpless when they are born in their maternal dens. They are in a very underdeveloped state, can't see, can't hear and can barely crawl. Leaving the vulnerable pups alone in the den while mom went hunting was a poor choice, as they would quickly become dinner for nearby predators. In an ancestral past, the presence of the male may have helped the female efficiently raise her young. Perhaps a good example of monogamy is the wolf, even though coyotes are also known for remaining monogamous for even up to 10 years.

According to Steven Lindsey, wolves reach sexual maturity at around 22 months, they are monogamous and have annual breeding cycles. However, the same David Mech who studied the alpha pair so extensively later wrote in his book "The Wolves of Minnesota(2003) claims:Wolves have long been considered monogamous. However, in reality, wolves are as monogamous–or non-monogamous–as human beings”

Knowing that dogs are a subspecies of the gray wolf and share the same exact chromosomes (78 arranged in 39 pairs) you would imagine dogs would adhere to a similar monogamous social organization. Yet, one must remember that dogs are not wolves and that two species separated several tens of thousands of years ago and went for their own paths.

Many differences are noted between dogs and wolves, both behaviorally and physiologically. From a reproductive standpoint, unlike the wolf, the female dog becomes sexually mature generally between 6 and 12 months of age, she generally comes into heat bi-annually (the basenji is an exception) and will readily mate with multiple partners. Forming breeding pairs as wolves do is literally unknown in the domestic dog. This makes the domestic dog a polygamous species, meaning they mate with multiple partners.

This helps facilitate selective breeding by humans. If a stud has great qualities, he can be easily bred to multiple females, whereas a female can be bred to different males season after season and can even be bred to different males within a season to obtain a multi-sired litter. We cannot inevitably though stop and wonder why are dogs this way?

One assumption may simply be domestication. Dogs are provided with lots of resources compared to canids in the wild. Just as a domesticated farm fox may no longer need a uniform coat to camouflage in captivity, a domesticated dog may no longer need to form a social bond with its mate to grant the survival of the litter. In the same way, domesticated dogs no longer regurgitate food for their pups as the dog's ancestors used to do and some continue to do in the wild. So it can very likely be that dogs are no longer monogamous for the simple fact that they no longer need to be because humans will take care of them.

So you may want to skip using dogs, swans and wolves as symbols of absolute loyalty and faithfulness in weddings; rather perhaps a better idea would be to use coyotes since a recent study has revealed they are 100 percent monogamous!

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"Till death do us apart" is taken seriously by these canids

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    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      Yes, Temple Grandin is a great author and many dog products were made inspired by her studies on acupressure.

    • patchofearth profile image

      patchofearth 4 years ago from somewhere in the appalachian foothills

      This is very interesting. Have are you familiar with the work of Temple Grandin. She has a chapter devoted to dogs in her book "Animals Make Us Human." She has some interesting insights as well.

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      Very interesting. Not sure if many humans mate for life any more.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      This was interesting, Alexadry, and well researched! Sharing.

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      Thanks for stopping by wetnose. With Valentines's day nearing, thought the tribute to monogamous animals would complement the article nicely.

    • wetnosedogs profile image

      wetnosedogs 4 years ago from Alabama

      Great pick of videos. Hub and videos were interesting.