Do Other Animals Keep Pets?

A colleague just sent me a link to one of my favorite science and behavior blogs, that of Harold Herzog, the author of  Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think  Straight About Animals. I use his book in my University class, The Biology and Philosophy of Human/Animal Relationships,” because the author is thoughtful, knowledgeable and one of those rare scientists who writes beautifully. If you find the topic interesting and haven’t read his book yet, pick up a copy. I highly recommend it.

The book includes a section on pets, and his recent blog addresses that issue as well; in this case, whether a video-gone-viral about “Baboons Keeping Dogs as Pets” accurately depicts the relationship between individuals of these two species. If you haven’t seen it yet, the video is included here, but before you watch it I want to give you an alert. Or a warning. The video begins with a male Hamadryas baboon grabbing a puppy by the tail and dragging it, squealing and screaming, across a bumpy field of rocks. It’s not fun to watch, and if your empathy quotient is set on “super sensitive,” just skip the first two minutes and watch the rest.


There are two issues here that I find especially interesting and thought would be interesting to you as well. One is the obvious question: Do baboons really keep dogs as pets? And even more interesting I’d argue, do any animals other than humans keep dogs as pets? Herzog has gone on record that, in spite of the exceptions of some captive animals like KoKo the gorilla’s pet cat, and the YouTube sensation of a grieving orangutan who formed an inseparable relationship with a hound dog, there are no credible records of any wild animals actually having what we would call a “pet.” If you’re interested in this dialogue, I’d read Herzog’s blog about the baboons first, including the comments, then come back here.

There are a lot of valuable nuggets of information in this article, in part because of Herzog’s dedicated attempt to discover the truth behind the breezy assumptions of the documentary from which the video was taken (Animals Like Us). Because the baboons and some dogs live in association in a garbage dump, and because the baboons sometimes groom the dogs, it is assumed that the baboons “steal” puppies with the intent of keeping them as their pets. But how do we know why the baboons grab puppies? If you watched the beginning of the video, you’ll have noted that the baboon licks the puppy’s anus before releasing it. Why? Familiarizing itself with the pup’s scent? Looking for lunch? Maybe baboons like poop as much as dogs do. And why is it only male baboons that do the “kidnapping?” I find that fact one of the most interesting of all. Usually it’s females that first keep individuals of another species around to comfort and be comforted by.

The question of what is happening in this particular troop of baboons is interesting enough. However, it brings up the larger question that I asked above: Do animals other than humans keep “pets.” First and foremost, I’ll argue, we have to define what we mean by pet, and already the waters get murky. Standard definitions of “pet” are “any domesticated or tamed animal that is kept as a companion and cared for affectionately” (, and “a domesticated animal kept for pleasure rather than utility” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Herzog himself defines a pet as a member of other species that are being kept for an extended period of time, for enjoyment.

Of course, “enjoyment” can mean many things. We call a dog kept in a small kennel in the back of someone’s yard a pet, even if it’s only taken out during hunting season. We call the dogs of others who live in the house, sleep on the couch and have their own acupuncturist pets too, yet their lives, and their “purpose,” are significantly different. On the one hand, both of the animals are being “kept for enjoyment,” one because the hunter presumably enjoys hunting and the other because of a close social connection. On the other hand, the key to “petness” and “non-petness” appears to be “utility” versus pleasure, yet the kenneled hunting dog appears to be kept primarily for utility.  Thus, when asking if other animals keep pets, it’s useful to remember that the concept includes a wide range of relationships in our own species.

Perhaps one perspective when asking if non-human animals (in the wild) ever keep “pets,” is to look at the evolution of pet keeping in our own species. Surely our first, close relationships with other species weren’t for the pure joy of petting their fur. How much was utility and how much pure “pleasure?” I’d guess those things weren’t particularly black and white.  And our relationships still vary widely. In many areas of Africa now, a Masai village for example, dogs live in close association with people, but I doubt they would fit the definition of a pet. The only time I ever saw one “petted” was when tourists asked about the dog, and a Masai grabbed one and posed for a photograph. Believe me, the dogs did not look like they were enjoying themselves. When I asked, the Masai told me they had the dogs because they barked when lions approached the edges of the thorn fence that enclosed the cattle and the tribe at night. When I asked them, one at a time, if it was “their dog,” each individual said yes, it was “their dog,” although none had a name for the dog and the dogs did not come when called.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Clearly all I’ve really done here is asked some questions, not answered any. But that’s part of the fun of being a human, right? A few starter questions: What makes a dog a pet? What is the boundary line that makes a dog absolutely not a pet? Have any of you seen anything you’d call “pet ownership” in one of your own dogs? Horses?  (Here’s a key question: What’s the difference between 2 individuals who are socially bonded, and one being the pet of another? Clearly it is something related to autonomy, and who feeds and takes care of who, but how clear is the dividing line?) Here’s another blog post on Primatology to whet your whistle….

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Rain! More and more of it. Not a lot, about a quarter inch two days in a row on the farm. We’re still a good 8-9 inches behind average, being in a seeming rain shadow and getting significantly less rain than just five miles away. But the grass that wasn’t killed is growing, the sheep are on pasture instead of hay right now, and I’m no longer dragging huge, heavy hoses around every day. Even better, Willie and I are working sheep every day. Last night we drove the flock up into the “high pasture,” and I split out a few to practice driving the sheep in a straight line away from me. (Like any sport, it looks easy when the pro’s do it, but in reality the sheep want to go right, then left, then right… my lines look more like big zig-zaggy zippers than straight lines, which is why I need to practice so much.)

The small group we split out to work on included a lamb who’s mother was in the other field. The draw to mom was much stronger than the pull to the rest of the flock, and lamb-boy kept Willie on his toes, repeatedly trying to dash away and run off to mom. Willie had to turn on the speed to stop him over and over, and yet he never lost his temper and threatened to bust in. Good boy Willie. This morning he had another test: Lady Godiva was not interested in moving where I wanted her, and continually took her two lambs away from the flock and attempted to dash back to the barn through the woods. She wanted to go right, and the rest of the flock wanted to bolt left.  I needed them somewhere in between. When Willie ran around to stop Lady G, he risked losing the rest on the other side. He did a great job of alternating between both sides, good boy again. And now it’s time to get the heck out of the indoors, and go outside with Willie again.

Here’s Willie an hour after I wrote the above, working another group I’ve split off from the bunch. This time it’s a ewe, Butterfinger who wants back to the main flock. In this first photo I’ve sent him around to stop her and bring her back to the group.


Notice how in the photo below she is already shifting her weight back away from Willie? Notice her head, her left foreleg position and her weight shifted backward instead of forward.


Now she’s headed back to the right group. Immediately after I took this Willie turned in toward her. He sometimes stops short, so I was pleased he “covered” her.


And below is the final photo, Butterfinger grudgingly going back to the small group for us to work awhile. Willie is moving faster than I normally would like, but in this case I let him take charge. This exercise puts a lot of pressure on a dog, and I wanted to take the pressure off for a second. Never fear, all the sheep got back together again soon after. As a matter of fact, they’re bawling at me right now… time to give the lambs their handful of grain and the ewes a tiny bit alfalfa hay just to spoil them.



  1. says

    I wonder if pet-keeping, by definition, requires a surplus of resources that wild animals simply don’t have? Hence the adoption of “pets” by animals in captivity who would not exhibit similar behaviors in the wild.

  2. Parallel says

    Kind of expanding on what Jessica said…

    I also wonder if it isn’t a function of captive animals not having the social bonds they would typically have in the wild. With Koko, for example, she would normally have a social group that would provide her bonding needs…including the care of infants most likely. In captivity, she might have ‘adopted’ the kitten to substitute for these missing bonds.

    As for humans…I think the only thing that defines a ‘pet’ vs. ‘livestock’ or a tool is the human viewpoint. A lamb may be a pet as it grows, then become ‘livestock’ at slaughtering age. The lamb didn’t change but the human viewpoint did. A hunting dog may start out as a tool with little interaction outside the hunt, then become a pet after he is retired.

    So I would feel the only defining trait of a pet is that it is kept for companionship. The animal may have other uses (such as a dog that herds), but the primary ‘use’ would be bonding. I don’t think how well the animal is kept enters the definition…rather, how well it is kept only affects if we define the human as responsible or not, not the status of the animal.

    Not sure if any of that makes sense…

  3. Kat says

    I find the notion of “pets” problematic. The term is simply too amorphous. I prefer the question do animals form cross species associations that are more than simply symbiotic. Like Jessica I think that an abundance of resources is a requirement for the formation of such associations. It seems to me that without such an abundance the leisure to form associations doesn’t exist, all the animal’s focus has to be on survival. The abundance of resources may be why we see such associations between animals in captivity. (Koko and her kitten).

    I’m fascinated by the interactions between my own animals. After the death of our senior cat, Katzenjammer, we had just two animals, Ranger (dog) and Meowzart (cat). When the time was right we added a new cat, The Great Catsby. Meowzart has always been shy of dogs and keeps his distance; The Great Catsby was immediately at home with Ranger and they played together all the time. We’ve been teaching Ranger K9 sign language. I was fascinated one day when The Great Catsby was sitting on my lap and Ranger came and sat in front of me and signed “Toy.” I asked “What Toy” and Ranger responded by nudging Catsby. He identified The Great Catsby as a “Toy.” I asked Ranger to identify Meowzart and he signed that he didn’t know what Meowzart was. Ranger plays with The Great Catsby and does not play with Meowzart. With the one cat he has an association that he does not with the other.

    The Great Catsby, when we first adopted our rescue dog Finna, would always leave a lick of his dinner for her. He had always eaten all his dinner before the advent of the new dog. As Finna settled in and became more relaxed The Great Catsby stopped leaving any of his food for the dog. Now Finna and The Great Catsby “hunt” together. Any package of treats that isn’t secured is fair game. Catsby jumps on the counter and knocks it down and Finna’s bigger teeth make short work of getting into it then they share the spoils. What fascinates me is that anything Catsby hunts for himself he will not share and anything Finna hunts for herself she will not share but if it is a cooperative hunting venture the spoils are shared.

    I wouldn’t say that my animals treat each other as “pets” but they do have interesting cross-species associations where they enjoy, appreciate, cooperate, care for one another.

    Thanks for another fascinating avenue of exploration. I’m looking forward to all the comments this will generate.

  4. Nicola says

    The definition of ‘pet’ is very interesting. Trisha, remember when you told us about being in NZ – to the Kiwis, who farm sheep in their thousands, having such a small flock which were NAMED made them pets – yet to you they are part business and part pleasure (herding with Willie). To the farmer I worked with, sheep didn’t get vet treatment – the most he would do is give them some electrolytes – if they didn’t bounce back, they were killed (throat cut by him)

    How does pet keeping in animals differ from friendship – there are many remarkable stories of different species being friends – when does one of them start keeping the other as a pet?

    Personally, I think the distinction between wild and captured animals isn’t valid – if a species can be shown to keep a pet in captivity, then I would think it means the capability is there, they just lack the extra food and leisure in the wild, just as many pet free humans do.

    Finally, having watched the video, I would need a lot more to call it ‘pet keeping’ – the baboon who grabbed the pup actually let it go, and the fact that adult dogs have been accepted into baboon troops and live with them doesn’t mean these dogs were captured as infants – only that they were familiar with baboons during their socialisation periods – but I would love to have the money to fund a study or the expertise to study it myself!

  5. em says

    That is amazing. I’ve never seen anything like those baboons with the puppies and dogs, and I confess that I am at a total loss to explain that video. I wouldn’t describe the dogs as ‘pets’ because it is not clear that they are dependent on the baboons, but I would say that there is strong evidence for a social bond of SOME kind between them. I have a fairly restricted personal definition of “pet”, though. I WOULDN’T describe a kenneled hunting or guard dog as pet- they are a means to pleasure (hunting, not getting your stuff stolen), not a source of pleasure in themselves.

    But as to why the male baboons deliberately steal puppies? It beats the heck out of me. I’ve seen video of female animals stealing other species’ babies (is that what you meant when you wrote that “females first keep individuals around to comfort” I admit to being a bit baffled by that statement as well. Do you mean baby-snatching, or long term relationship forming? Is there any other example of long term bonding among wild animals of different species?

    Just to add another wrinkle to this issue, I have also seen (many years ago now) a video of a biologist attempting to raise an orphaned infant gorilla. He brought the baby into the forest to introduce her to wild gorilla habitat and vocalizations. An unrelated wild troop approached the biologist and became very agitated when they saw/heard the baby. Eventually the silverback charged the biologist, swung a fist at him with one arm and grabbed for baby with the other. The biologist dropped the baby, and the silverback scooped it up and dashed back to the troop with the infant, which sadly died because none of the females were nursing. This is obviously a very different situation- the gorillas were correct in recognizing a baby gorilla in the company of a non-gorilla and their actions are perhaps more understandable than the baboons’, but it struck a chord in my memory because it was the male that acted in that situation, too.

    So do the baboons deliberately decide to steal puppies in order to get dogs, specifically, or do they recognize puppies as “baby” and steal them to add to their troop, not distinguishing between puppy and baboon baby the way that (mostly, exclusively?) female animals sometimes “adopt” infants of other species? (I’ve seen a lion with stolen gazelle calves, a leopard with a baby baboon, and the famous KoKo with her kitten on video). Or is there something else going on? Man, what a fascinating topic!

    I searched around and found the video that I remembered on YouTube (this actually is a different narration that the program I saw, but the video is the same).

  6. Beth with the Corgis says

    I think the idea of a baboon keeping a dog as a “pet” is problematic in the sense that dogs and baboons are close enough in intelligence that there is not a striking disparity between the thinking and problem-solving skills of the adults of the species. How can two animals that occupy a similar ecological niche be broken down into “owner” and “pet?” If a mother dog nurses a baby squirrel, we see it as displaced maternal instincts, not as some sort of pet-taking. Koko and her kitten are probably similar misplaced mothering instincts, though certainly there is a slightly larger intelligence gap there.

    The video shows nothing but a curious adult kidnapping a puppy, and then later shots of adult dogs living side-by-side with adult baboons. Just because they are welcomed as part of the social order does not make them pets. Having a pet implies that the pet owner feels a certain sense of responsibility for the animal. Moreover, it implies that we recognize the animal has been removed from its natural habitat and can no longer fend for itself, and that we expect a certain set of behaviors from the pet in return for our doting care. People keep fish, but we don’t truly think of fish as pets when they are housed in large aquariums; we do our best to replicate their natural environment on a small scale and want them to behave naturally. A sole gold fish in a bowl who watches out for us and comes to the surface for hand-feeding, on the other hand, might start to take on pet-type qualities in our eyes, despite his limited ability to engage.

    It’s very difficult to see evidence of any of these traits in the brief video. Animals in restricted habitats (be they captive, or living by choice in the restricted area of a dump) have their natural behaviors curtailed to some degree and so we see displacement behaviors. Captive horses might bond with a cat or goat. Orphaned infants of one social species might find a home with a nursing mother of another species. And baboons and dogs stressed by living in close quarters due to a local abundance of resources might adopt each other into social circles. But that does not make one the pet and the other the keeper. My guess is if the cameras were there long enough they might similarly find a dog taking a baboon baby in its jaws.

  7. Kat says

    Another thought. We know that there are birds that clean the hides of Rhinos (sorry no time to google and I can’t remember the name) and birds that clean the teeth of crocodiles. Has anyone ever done a study to see if there are specific pairings? In other words if birds X,Y, and Z only clean Rhino A and don’t clean any other Rhino. It seems to me that if there are specific pairings and not just any bird and any Rhino then it begins to be more like a “pet keeping” relationship.

  8. Rebecca Rice says

    Wether or not other animals keep pets is an interesting question. As you so rightly point out, it is hard to define what exactly makes an animal a “pet”, and not just “livestock”, or, in some ways worse, “accessory”. I do find it interesting that the baboon/feral dog interaction is probably close to what happened way back when with humans and wolves. Large amounts of available resources (trash), canines living on the edges of the baboon territory, pups stolen and kept, apparently for their watchdog tendencies. So maybe they are pets, as much as any other guard dog is considered a pet by the family that keeps it. After all, it has taken many many generations to get to the point where it is considered “normal” for dogs to have names, live inside, and not have jobs to do. (As a side note, I often wonder how much of that has to do with vaccines and improved health care. If you have to worry about rabies, distemper, parvo, fleas, ticks, worms, etc., you might be a lot less willing to have your dog living inside with the kids. And when your dog’s life is going to be a lot shorter because of snake bites, animal attacks in hunting dogs, broken bones, etc., it might be easier to deal with their deaths if they are not as much a part of the family as our “pets”.)

    I’m not sure if this qualifies as pet “keeping”, since it seemed to be pretty one-sided, but there is the lioness who “adopted” the baby antelope. If I recall correctly, multiple times, since the antelope kept dying since there is an obvious difference in food requirements, and she wouldn’t let it go nurse.

  9. Enid says

    I am interested in the K9 sign language spoken about by above reply from “KAT”. Anyone know where data can be found? Thanks

  10. says

    Trisha — thanks for commenting on the baboon post! I had completely missed the part where the baboon licks the puppies anus. Great observation…and I agree that one of the most interesting question is “what exactly is a pet?”

    After I wrote the post, I talked to a British reporter who knows a lot about the baboons in Ta’if. He mentioned that feral cats are also part of the picture. It seems that the baboons, cats and dogs interact regularly in a state of apparent harmony. He also said that there is a lot of food in the Ta’if dump and that tourist regularly feed the baboons in the Ta’if troop. This might explain why they don’t seem to eat puppies and kittens.


  11. Trisha says

    Hal: And thank you again for writing such an interesting post. As you mentioned, I too had a moment of “Uh Oh,” now the baboon eats the puppy… (I remember reading that baboons are brilliant at finding hidden gazelle fawns.) But with an infinite amount of resources, seems like that is off the table. Fascinating stuff these interspecific associations.

  12. Kat says

    @ Enid, Sometime back Trisha mentioned a book called Dogs Can Sign, Too: A Breakthrough Method for Teaching Your Dog to Communicate to You by Sean Senechal that was in her pile of books to be read. The idea of a shared gestural language to use with my dog fascinated me so I found a copy of the book and read it. It sounded interesting and we didn’t have anything else we were training at that point so I figured what the heck we’d give it a try. My dog Ranger has always been a very effective communicator so finding out if we could give him some other tools with which to communicate seemed worth pursuing. You can find some of our adventures in this at and other posts.

    Currently Ranger has half a dozen signs he uses and probably twice that number that he recognizes. Please, note, this is not a scientifically controlled study in any way. It might simply be the clever Hans effect in action but the way Ranger uses his limited vocabulary to communicate concepts fascinates me. Without any prompting he assigned Toy as the sign for The Great Catsby. When asked, Ranger identified his puzzles as “food/toy.” When he did that I had actually been asking him what kind of treats were in the puzzle and expected him to sign “Cheese.” However, the treats were inside the puzzle at the time so his use of “food/toy” was an accurate reply given his limited gestural vocabulary. Is it true language use, I don’t know but it sometimes looks a lot like that.

  13. Ravana says

    Although I did buy my dog a fish (I took him to the pet store and let him pick out the fish) and he enjoyed having his “pet” around and would check on him multiple times a day, he never cleaned the bowl or fed the thing so it was as much his pet as a puppy is the pet of a two year old.

    As for the baboon and the puppy I think what is going on there is low ranking male practicing his hierarchical behavior. Baboon troops are matriarchal and female baboons inherit the rank of their mothers, but male baboons gain rank by dominating smaller, weaker males. Dragging that puppy by the tail and forcing him to lie down by beating him against the rocks is similar to what a male baboon would do to a younger/smaller/lower ranking male baboon he caught off guard.

    I think what is happening with that particular troop and the feral dogs in that dump is similar to the original symbiotic relationship between proto-humans and proto-dogs which resulted in the co-evolution of our two species.

  14. liz says

    A notion that is hopefully thought-provoking beyond its original intent at humor:
    Many a dog person has joked that s/he is owned by the dog, and gone on to list the ways in which the dog manipulates the owner to receive attention, resources, etc. Could it be that humans are truly considered pets among the most demanding of our dogs?

    In this regard, my definitions of “owner” and “pet” seem to be linked to possession, distribution, and receipt of resources… but I’m sure my thoughts on this great topic will be changing for days!

  15. says

    Oh wow. Who would have thought. Thank you for this interesting post, and for drawing attention to this fascinating topic and material.
    Your questions make my brain smoke with activity already. They raise many more questions about what implications the answers to any of them would have to our relationships with our pets. For example, the question of autonomy in regards to the difference between a social bond and pet ownership. That reminds me of the Coppingers’ book Dogs, with its underlying theme of problematising pet dog ownership and asking whether it’s worth it. As if working dog ownership = OK, pet dog ownership = not quite right. And as if the difference between a working animal and pet was always clear.

    What’s the difference between 2 individuals who are socially bonded, and one being the pet of another?

  16. Jenny Haskins says

    Hmm. The male baboon’s treatment of the pup didn’t look to me like “pet keeping”.

    I it seems like nrml male baboon behaviour to infants, but in this case misdirected to the infant of another species. A baby baboon, one excpects would have clung to the male. The poor puppy was simply dragged :-(
    “When tensions are high in the troop, a male may kidnap an infant and carry her until tensions subside. In this way, males use infants as agonistic buffers. They carry infants not to protect them but to protect themselves. Some males, however, appear to take a benevolent interest in infants.”

    I expect that the relationship between the baboons and dogs is “commensal” — similar to the dingoes (and now feral dogs) that hang around the Aborigines’ camps — the people benefit from the dogs cleaning up human waste and the dogs benefit from using the waster as food.

  17. Janice says

    I didn’t see “pet” behavior in the baboon video. First of all, what you see are two completely separate events. You see an adult male baboon assault a puppy (more on that later) and then you see some dogs that are associating with the baboon troops in a cooperative relationship (the baboons relieve the dogs of ticks and fleas with their superior grooming techniques and the dog are alert and warn of dangers (one of the primary reasons why many humans of the millennia have tolerated or encouraged the presence of dogs). But there is nothing to suggest that one event (the taking of a puppy) leads to the other event (and adult dog in a cooperative relationship with the baboons). Unless you were to identify that the puppy taken by the male baboon continued to grow up with the baboons and then went on to associate only with the baboon troop that took him, I think that this theory is a wash.

    So I think that what is going on in the later part of that video is cooperative behavior between species that both live in social groups. I see this, for example, between my guard llama and sheep flock. The llama has a long neck giving it a much greater distance it can see and much better vision than a sheep. If the llama sees something in the distance and assumes an alert posture, the sheep attend to this in the same way that they would if it were another sheep. As an animal that lives in social groups, there is always safety in numbers, but the sheep utilize the greater vision of the llama to improve their own safety. They have bonded with each other to the degree that they move together as a grazing unit. They recognize individuals within that unit. But I would never say that one species is a pet of another.

    Now to the first part of the video when the male baboon grabbed the puppy. Has anyone else noted that it was only the male baboons that did this? What I think is going on is sexual behavior. Male baboons, like other males of species of a harem-acquiring reproductive style, are always on the make. They can and will rape females that “belong” to another male. In fact, one of the functions of the dominant male is to protect the females from constant harassment by amorous males. The constantly fighting and attempting to breed of the males can wear the females out, while the females are putting out a lot more energy to keep young alive. If they have to constantly deal with the males, their own survival is compromised, so staying in the vicinity of the dominant males is to their survival benefit. I even recall a study in antelope where they determined that after the loss of the dominant male, the remaining males were harassing the females to such a degree that they went into hiding. So anyway, the males are always looking for an unprotected female to breed. Look at what that male baboon did with the puppy. The pup is nearly the size of a young female baboon . The male baboon grabbed it by the tail and dragged it out of the rocks. The male then held the puppy down and made contact in the inguinal regions in a mating posture. A female baboon caught in such a way would likely have raised her bottom in an appeasement gesture. The puppy didn’t know to do this and the male continues to try to get it into a breeding posture, while you see the puppy fighting back–rolling over and not getting into the correct posture, while the baboon holds it down. Finally the baboon smells the puppy’s bottom and stalks off, letting go of the puppy. Did he think the puppy was a female baboon, probably not. Did he think the puppy might be something of the same size and shape of a female baboon that he could try to breed with…maybe. At least that is a better hypothesis than one that he was trying to develop a loving, nurturing relationship with the puppy. I certainly have seen males of one harem-acquiring species attempt to breed members of another species. (Drakes–male ducks–are famous for this–they will chase down and attempt to breed anything vaguely resembling a duck–including chickens and geese). Of course, the male baboons wouldn’t try this with an adult dog–they would get bitten. A mid sized puppy though would make a good victim–big enough to attempt to mount, too small to effectively fight back.

    So what I saw with that male baboon and the puppy was sexual behavior with an attempted rape. There is nothing there to suggest that the snatched puppy goes on to be cared for by the baboons and becomes bonded to them. He is, it appears, frightened by this assault and not in the process of developing a loving and trusting relationship. The other dogs you see freely associating with the baboons are all adults. They may be low ranking members of the dog community who found safety in numbers associating with the baboons. The puppy probably raced back to mom with a tale to tell.

    There may be examples of wild living animals developing an intense emotional bond with an animal of another species. I don’t think this is an example of pet behavior.

  18. Elizabeth2 says

    Recent work by archaeologists Paul Mellars and Jennifer French of Cambridge University pushes the date for human domestication of dogs back much farther than previously believed, to 30,000 years ago or older, as described in an article at

    At one Czech site, dogs were buried with bones inserted between their teeth (it’s irresistible the emotion involved in some ancient human’s tucking that bone between the teeth of a companion not long dead–did this bone signify gratitude? Grief? Was it a wish: May you chew long and blissfully in the afterlife?). Pat Shipman, the article’s author, speculates that the connection between biologically modern humans and dogs gave humans the edge in competition for resources, especially game, with the non-dog-owning Neanderthals who shared the same territory.

    Dr. Shipman further suggests that our relationship with dogs affected not only our survival but our evolution into recognizably modern humans: “In humans, the white sclerae and open eyelids make the direction of a person’s gaze visible from a distance, particularly if that glance is directed in a more or less horizontal direction. The changes in the human eye may be adaptations to enhance the effectiveness of the gaze signal”–meaning the “gaze signal” could direct the dog’s attention in the desired direction, maximizing interspecies cooperation in locating and pursuing game.

    If true, this would mean that without our special relationship with dogs, we might not be here at all. Kinda takes the concept of companion animal to a whole new level, and I love the idea that whenever I look in the mirror, the eyes looking back were shaped by the gaze between ancient human and ancient (maybe beloved) dog.

  19. Merciel says

    Ravana’s story about the dog and the fish was so interesting to me, because my dog Crookytail also seems to think of my guinea pigs as his “pets.”

    Which is to say: he behaves solicitously toward them, enjoys looking at them, runs over to poke them with his nose if they whistle or squeak (this seems to be an attempt at reassuring them? I’m not sure, but he pauses for a split second after doing it and pulls back as if to gauge their reactions, then he’ll either repeat the gesture if they’re still making noise or step away if they’re not), and so we jokingly say that Crookytail has adopted the pigs. His behavior toward them is different from the behavior displayed by my other dog and the procession of foster dogs that passes through our house (all of whom are also fascinated by the pigs, but seem to regard them more as toys and/or potential prey).

    But of course he can’t care for them, so they are not really “his pets” in any meaningful way. And it doesn’t appear to be reciprocal: I have absolutely no idea what, if anything, the pigs think of him. They will sometimes scurry over and touch his nose with their noses, but I think that’s just because they mistake him for me and are hoping to get a Yogie by coming toward the large blurry thing looming over the pen.

  20. Debbie says


    By the way, the white dog (that is almost identical to my Sophie) appears to be wearing a collar. I don’t think I’m imagining it and it doesn’t appear to be dangerously tight, although it’s definitely snug. I just thought that was interesting.

  21. mar says

    Thank you for the mention of Mr. Herzog’s other book that you say you use in your classes. I have some excellent libraries in my area but could not find the book in any of them or on I also could not find it listed in our inter-library loan service either. Could you supply me with the ISBN numbers on the back of the book. With this info I may be able to hunt down a copy. Thank you.

  22. D says

    Oh I know you’ve moved on to another post and this is late and really not even completely relevant, but kinda funny: When I first bought a small flock of sheep to start working my young Border Collie, a friend of mine at work said “Why do you want sheep? Are they for wool or for meat?” I said “Well, neither. The sheep are for my dog.” My friend pondered this for a moment, then said “I think I’d draw the line at buying pets for my pets!”

  23. Gryphon says

    One thing that I think is relevant to the discussion of animal-on-animal pet-keeping is the tendency for blind animals to be “adopted” by sighted ones. Besides the handful of anecdotes (case studies?) amplified by the Internet, I don’t have any data or real understanding of the phenomenon. But the interplay between the blind animal and the guiding animal, whatever it ACTUALLY is, seems to get closer to pet-keeping than anything else I can think of (I can think of gardening and livestock-keeping among insects, but that’s…not…that’s not “pets,” haha).

    However or whyever that relationship arises*, there’s an unequal bond there between a controlling, considerate partner in a position of advantage and an attentive, deferential one with some basic needs they’d appreciate help with. I don’t think guide animals are really keeping blind ones as pets, but they are “keeping” them, sort of, paying them attention and looking out for them and “providing them with a resource” they lack (or embodying that resource, or something). And the blind animals aren’t just sitting there and being pets; they’re choosing to follow, relying on their trusted guides, using them to extend their own agency rather than finding themselves curtailed by being “owned.” (Unless the guiding animal is a jerk, I guess!) So they’re a lot less “petlike,” in my conception of what’s going on, than the guiding animals are “ownerlike” or “caretakerlike.”

    That ended up sounding a lot more touchy-feely than I meant it to–thinking specifically of one sighted goat/blind horse pairing that was allegedly pretty dispassionate, I’d like to reemphasize that, rather than being incontrovertibly and in all cases some suuuuuper special magical bond, this phenomenon is probably a natural consequence of “blind animals being flexible enough to use anything in their environment to help navigate it, and other animals being especially versatile and powerful tools for this” and “sighted social animals of all stripes getting a kick out of another animal uncomplainingly doing what they tell them.”

    I mean, those things together very well might–might even usually! might even always! who knows! maybe that goat was just a really stoic sort of dude!–result in affection and dependence and etc!! But also maybe not. Edging even the slightest bit away from “animals are unfeeling (or predictably- and simply- and immediately-feeling) robots” territory puts you smack dab into the touchy-feely ascribing-motives zone on this topic. 😛 Still though!

    *(I like to think it’s due to the blind animal being primed to really, wholly, truly, actually, genuinely, actively pay attention to its guiding partner–as a source of information about the environment–than a sighted peer would ever need to, and that since social animals notice and value attention, a sighted guide would find their blind partner’s uniquely high-quality attention to them uniquely compelling.)

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