Sexual orientation or what is wrong with dogs?

Brain teaser

Dogs greet their owners by wagging their tails, whimpering to attract attention, sniffing and licking. What do dogs do when they encounter a bitch in heat? Do they wag tails, sniff behinds, lick? Yes they do. That begs the question, are dogs sexually attracted to their owners?

What have dogs to do with the sexual orientation of humans?

In some sense dogs are domesticated wolves. Humans have gone through a process called self-domestication; probably during the time as homo habilis. The result in both cases is neoteny, the retainment of juvenile features. Neoteny seems to have a bigger impact on human behavior than acknowledged so far.


cute dog puppy
cute dog
The famous russian silver fox experiment was aimed at finding out how domestication turned wolves into dogs. The selection in this silver fox experiment was based on the behavior as the sole criterium. However, the changes in behavior were accompanied by physiological changes, which show signs of neoteny. Neoteny denotes the retainment of both physiological and behavioral traits. The physiological traits can be characterized as Kindchenschema. Those silver foxes started to look cute. Is this a coincidence?

Not only did the foxes became more tame, but also showed smarter behavior. Smart in this case means social intelligence. The foxes attracted attention and wanted to play, something that reminds us of dogs. Playing in the animal kingdom is an act mostly juveniles do. Cubs and pups play with each other and test their strength. Playing as a pup meant learning how to subdue prey. Sometimes the parents get involved and "teach" them a lesson or two. This playing with each other can be considered the earliest of teaching.

The selection of juvenile playful non-aggressive behavior in those silver foxes is a possible explanation for the emerging neoteny. That pups in general are not aggressive towards siblings is another result of evolution.

Pups do not have a dominance hierarchy, which is retained in dogs, see Alexandra Semyonova. Pups and dogs live in groups that are defined by one-to-one relationships. It is often said that dogs consider their owners as a parent, much like the imprinting of wild gooses, which are raised by humans. But this would render any sale of older dogs to a different owner as problematic. Hence, it is not imprinting that bonds dogs to their owners. Cattle, which is another domesticated animal, also reacts on human presence. This however, seems to be more like a Pavlov's dog reflex. Any human is regarded as a signal for feeding time or milking.

Dogs must consider humans as another element of their social group. The learn the verbal and nonverbal communication anew like they did with their siblings. In order to function in a domestic setting, they had to develop social intelligence, pretty much like homo habilis did in the human evolution.


The first pair-bonding of pups is to its parent. This mother-young bonding ensures nurture and a successful reproduction. This and the non-aggressive rivalry with siblings gets transformed into one-to-one relationships, which are attachments. This is the reason, why dogs greet their owners in the same way they are courting a bitch. The mating aspect gets overshadowed by the neotenous attachment, at least there is an overlap of juvenile attachment and sexual behavior. 

Hence: No, the dogs are not sexually attracted to their human owners. They don't seek a mate in humans, but a play partner.

Sexual orientation

The wikipedia entry on sexual orientation focuses a lot on the sexual aspect, while I in my previous post started to question the sexual nature of the desire part. The arousal is without any doubt of a sexual nature, the body responds to clues in a sexual way. The arousal part could be some kind of learned response to clues. John Money considers lovemaps and phylisms in his theory of paraphilias. Somehow one learns what the desired partner looks like and starts responding to clues in a more reflex like manner. Bem's disputed theory  "exotic becomes erotic" could be reformulated as "attracted becomes erotic". During a certain stage in childhood humans acquire a lovemap, which  might be nothing else than a preference for certain types of attachments. 

Since humans live in social groups, the sought after attachment has to fit in. As such it is not really a one-to-one relationship, but a complex system. As it seems to me, the development of a lovemap is a fragile process, which can be easily distorted. The attachment, one has a toddler, has to change. It seems that lovemaps or attachment search develops along certain paths, not all paths leading to a heterosexual orientation. 

One explanation for homosexuality is the fraternal birth order effect, which also has been observed in pedophiles and male-to-female transsexuals. However, having many older brothers changes the family climate and might lead to a different attachment to the primary caregiver for the youngest than the older brothers had. 

If sexual orientation are basically lovemaps based on attachment patterns, then childhood attachment(s) are relevant for their development. Moreover, the glorified target is influenced by culture, like romantic and love.


The discussion of sexual orientation must include neoteny. Humans do not simply look for a mating partner, but for one to establish a relationship to. This relationship includes many other aspects besides a sexual component. Why do we still call it "sexual orientation" if only the arousal is sexual?

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