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Why Do Dogs Adopt Other Animals?

yellow chick sitting on black dog's head

The words  "dog adoption" probably conjure up images of people visiting an animal shelter and discovering a canine soulmate they can't wait to take home. It's an act of caring and devotion that makes life better for all involved (especially children!).

But there's another very different kind of dog adoption that can also be characterized as an act of caring and devotion: when dogs adopt other animals. This inter-species "adoption" is the maternal instinct taken to a higher level.

Inter-species Adoption: Why Dogs Choose Other Animals

Altruism in animals — in which animals, often of different species, bond with or help each other — has been discussed and researched by biologists and animal behavior experts for quite some time. For us humans — especially dog lovers — one of the most touching examples of this behavior is when a nursing dog adopts newborns from another species. Female dogs are more likely to adopt than male dogs, and they tend to choose young mammals to mother as their own pups.

One of the reasons we love dogs so much is because  they’re so generous with their love. That's why stories of dogs adopting youngsters from other species (strange as the individual cases may sometimes be) don't strike us as impossible. Dogs are social animals willing to add both canine and non-canine members to their pack.

When Dogs Adopt Other Animals

There’s no shortage of documented examples of inter-species adoption involving dog + other. The videos on YouTube alone could easily keep you busy for several happy hours. A Google search also delivers many heartwarming examples.

Here are some of our favorite examples of inter-species dog adoption:

Dogs + Wolf Cubs

Because dogs and wolves are canine cousins, this combination isn’t surprising. Still, when you hear stories of dogs raising wolf cubs in zoos and conservation centers, your heart goes out to both the mom and the youngster. Those wolf cubs have excellent role models in their adoptive doggie parents.

dark golden retreiver playing with grey cat

Dogs + Kittens

Those of us who have both dogs and cats in our homes know that — cliché cartoon storylines aside — these two species are capable of forming strong bonds. It's not surprising, then, to come across stories (and videos) of mother dogs nursing cute kittens.

However, this situation takes on a new dimension when the kitten isn't a domestic cat, but a panther or tiger. Big cats that are reared from a very young age by a dog have been known to form a strong maternal bond, even as the adopted cat grows to be much larger than their mother! Stories like these have been reported in places as far apart as China, England and Kansas.

fluffy fat puppy nuzzling dark grey piglet in the grass

Dogs + Other Non-canine Mammals

This rather broad category includes dogs that have adopted pigs, deer, squirrels and monkeys. Granted, not all of these adoptions involve nursing, but in many cases the "parent" dog becomes a surrogate adult leader for a very young member of a very different species. Some research posits that mother dogs have a knack for sniffing out the pheromones of young mammals, leading to them mothering many types of fuzzy, warm-blooded babies.

curious dog looking at baby chick sitting in human's palm

Dogs + Birds

Birds of a feather may flock together, but what happens when a chick comes out of their shell and the first thing they see is the barnyard dog? Instant bonding. Biologists call it "imprinting," and it can make for a very strong connection between a chick, duckling or gosling and their four-legged, non-feathered parent figure.

So don't be too surprised if you see some puffy and perky chicks trying their best to keep up with a dog as they wander around a farm. And, likewise, don't be surprised if you see that dog taking their parenting job very seriously, keeping a protective eye out for the chirping chicks in their care.

Dogs are amazing creatures that can raise a vastly different baby animal as their own, sense when their owner is pregnant, communicate through licks and yawns, and so much more. Whether they’re rolling around in smelly things or making us laugh with their silly doggie antics, dogs have a way of keeping us on our toes and also smiling from ear to ear — just another reason why owning a dog is so beneficial for us.

  • The Serious Benefits of Play

    dog carrying a frisbee in its mouth

    Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.

    The benefits of play

    Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:

    • Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
    • Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
    • Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
    • Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
    • Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.

    How to play with your dog

    There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.

    When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.

    When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.

    Playtime tips

    • Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
    • Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
    • Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
    • Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
    • You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
    • If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!

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