Unlikely Friends

We’ve all heard of dogs being called “man’s best friend,” but have you ever considered the other friends a dog could have? Throughout the history of the canine, we have heard wacky stories of dogs bonding with and befriending the most unlikely of creatures, spanning the animal kingdom. Some dogs even raise the young of other species as their own. Ever wonder how that works? Well, here we take a look at how animal bonding occurs in nature—including how intra-species bonding could happen—and some of our favorite friendly duos.

Photo source: all-creatures.org

How Animals Bond

When an animal is born, there is a very short period of time during which the baby fixates on another object and identifies it as its mother and of its own species. This process, called imprinting, was discovered by Austrian biologist Konrad Lorenz when working with baby geese. He noticed that the babies would typically see their mother immediately after being born and then would follow her and be able to readily recognize her thereafter.

However, if a mother animal is replaced by some other moving object, the babies may fixate on that object instead and then act toward it like a mother. In fact, to prove his findings, Lorenz actually made a gaggle of geese imprint on himself, and they subsequently followed and obeyed him like a mother. So, during this crucial early window of time, if a baby animal imprints on a dog—or if a puppy imprints on another animal—it’s easy to see how such intra-species bonding could occur immediately after birth.

Once baby animals begin to mature, they bond with other animals in their family or species through social grooming (also known as mutual grooming or allo-grooming). Just as you see monkeys doing at the zoo, this practice of literally grooming or cleaning one another is important in building and maintaining social structure and enhancing a sense of kinship among mammals, insects, fish, and birds. When a dog licks its master or even grooms another species, this indicates that a strong bond of trust and affection has been achieved.

A recent study by the University of Edinburgh has shed further light on animal bonding. The results showed that a particular hormone in the animal brain helps it distinguish between old and new scents and thereby helps the animal identify other animals based on their scent. The study centered on a group of rats. First, they introduced an adult rat to a baby rat and allowed them to familiarize themselves with each other. Then they separated the two and, after a period, placed the original baby and a new baby with the adult. The adult rats with the hormone blocked did not recognize the original baby rat. The study not only underscored the importance of the sense of smell in animal bonding but helped researchers further understand the links between memory and smell.

Photo source: socialcommercetoday.com

Strange-But-True Friendships

As you can see, nature does a pretty good job of ensuring that animals bond with their mothers and those within their species. However, sometimes things don’t go as planned, and, for one reason or another, some pretty unusual friendships can develop—often with a dog forming one half of the equation. Scientists aren’t 100-percent sure why these bonds occur. Sometimes a baby animal is left without a mother and an animal of another species takes over. But, often, creatures in close quarters just seem to hit it off (kind of like humans). While we can’t state for certain the science behind these unlikely pairs, one thing is for sure: It’s pretty darn cute. Here are some of our favorites.

Bella and Tara

In 2005, Carol Buckley and Scott Blais of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee found a stray dog near their property and decided to bring her home. To their surprise, the 30-pound dog, Bella, made fast friends with one of the sanctuary’s 4-ton residents: Tara the Asian elephant. The two play and roam together, and Bella even kept careful watch over Tara when she was injured.

Photo source: abcnews.go.com

Ben and Duggie

Duggie the dolphin became quite the attraction for locals and tourists on Tory Island, off the coast of County Donegal in Ireland, when he started swimming area waters regularly in 2006. Well, the sightings became even more interesting when Ben, a Labrador retriever, swam out to play with the dolphin for hours; the pair was soon joined by other local dogs as well.

Photo Source: globalanimal.org

Yogi and Ducklings

When Frances Marsh brought a box full of ducklings back to her home in North Carolina, Yogi, a 5-year-old Corgi, immediately bent down and gave them a friendly lick. Soon, in a clear example of imprinting, the baby birds started following the dog everywhere, even waddling after him into water to go swimming. Yogi gently guides the ducklings around with a push of his nose, and he sleeps next to their box at night, keeping his own silent vigil.

Photo source: cesarsway.com

Roscoe and Suryia

At another animal refuge, The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species in South Carolina, another stray dog found its way onto the property and quickly found a new friend. In 2006, Roscoe the bluetick coonhound followed institute founder Bhagavan “Doc” Antle and orangutan Suryia through the park gate, and the two animals immediately started playing. The constant companions enjoy romping together through the park, often swimming together or rolling in the grass. In fact, Suryia even takes Roscoe for walks on his leash from time to time.

Photo Source: all-creatures.org

George and Man Disa

Within a home containing 150 different pets, two of the most unlikely creatures have become close companions: a Labradoodle, George, and a meerkat, Man Disa. Owners Susan and Rob Louth, of Ruskington, Lincs, England, say that, when the home’s male meerkat died, Man Disa started to cuddle with George. Now, the family isn’t surprised when they come home and find the best friends curled up together on the couch.

Photo Source: thesun.co.uk


1. http://animalbehaviour.net/Imprinting.htm

2. http://academic.reed.edu/biology/professors/srenn/pages/teaching/web_2008/dklj_site_final/home.html

3. http://www.ed.ac.uk/news/all-news/250210-scent

4. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/national-geographic-channels-animal-friends-explores-unusual-animal/story?id=12470193

5. http://www.cesarsway.com/news/photos/amazing-photos-unlikely-animal-friends

6. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/unleashed/2011/02/dog-dolphin-best-friends-tory-island.html

7. http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3922486/It-mutt-be-love.html