Are Dogs Monogamous? Do They Mate for Life?
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 thoughts about monogamy. It just seems natural to invite dogs to weddings, as they are known for being faithful, loyal companions, but are they the right animals to dress up as bride and groom?
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, simply means having one soul mate. For those who believe in a religious marriage, it's a vow: "till death do us part." 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.
Swans, doves, bald eagles, and wolves tend to mate for life. 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 need parental protection, although there are several other factors at play.
Also, to burst the romantic bubble, several species that are known for being monogamous actually 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 look outside the nest!
You may wonder at this point how widespread monogamy is in the animal world. Over 90% of avian species are considered socially monogamous, but true monogamy is relatively rare in the world of mammals, where only 3 to 5% adhere to this social organization.
So where do dogs stand?
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 goes hunting is 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.
Do Wolves Mate for Life?
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.
Are Dogs Polygamous?
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. A better idea would be to use coyotes, since a recent study has revealed they are 100% monogamous!
- Responsible Dog: The Evolution and Domestication of the Dog
- The Retriever Dog and Wildlife Blog: Monogamy and polygyny in canids
- Science Daily: Urban Coyotes Never Stray: New Study Finds 100 Percent Monogamy
Top 20 monogamous animals
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.