9 Animals That Can Connect With Humans
All it takes is one look from a dog, or a few moments spent with a cat, to know animals are capable of bonding with humans. Our usual go-to pets tend to want lots of attention, and clearly enjoy spending time with us. But other species are capable of feelin' the love, too.
"Most of the multiple species of animals that we as humans have developed relationships with over the years are domesticated animals including dogs, cats, rabbits, and farm animals," Katie Moore, deputy vice president of Animal Rescue at International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), tells Bustle. "Animals have throughout history been bred for the sole purpose of coexisting and having relationships with humans over time. They in turn have essentially developed the capacity to bond with people."
In some instances, though, bonded relationships can occur with wild animals, too. "In the case of rescued wild animals, people and wild animals can develop a mutually close relationship, though this often results from some sort of a rescue scenario where the animal was rescued by the human," Moore says. "This is one of the many cases in which it becomes more apparent that the fates of both humans and wild animals are deeply intertwined."
Here are some of the animals most likely to bond with us, according to experts.
Not that it's any surprise, but dogs are definitely capable of bonding with humans. And we have a long history with them that helps explain why.
"Throughout history, humans realized there was a role for dogs in their lives, likely driven by the need for working dogs to aid in tending herds," Moore says. "While many dogs still serve in this role, we as humans also find very rewarding companionship in our dogs."
It can depend on the personality of the dog, though, when it comes to how much they're likely to bond. "We know that there are some dogs and cats that crave human attention and affection, while others, not so much," Moore says. "Dogs and cats, like humans, have their own personalities and their own experiences that shape their relationships with people. Their history (e.g. being a stray or not and thus more wary of people) can have similar effects on their psyche as they would on humans."
Humans have a super long relationship with cats as well, which has led to a pretty tight bond.
"One of our most ancient animal relationships has resulted in evolutionary continuity and relational familiarity, which leads us to be able to understand each other and increase empathy and emotional sensitivity," Philip Tedeschi, human-animal connection expert for Rover.com, tells Bustle.
Even though they often seem aloof, it turns out cats are actually tuned into us in a significant way. "New research has found the first strong evidence that cats are sensitive to human emotional gestures and can read facial expressions," he says. "The longer they live with us the greater this capability becomes."
Even if you haven't looked deeply into a chicken's eyes, if you were to do so, you might feel a connection. Because believe it or not, these guys are way smarter, more emotional, and cognitively complex than we give them credit for.
That means they can connect with us, even to the point of making great therapy animals. "Chickens can be great animal companions and are starting to be kept by many urban pet keepers, especially homes with children," Tedeschi says. "One of the reasons for this close connection is that chickens are easily trained, can be very social, and enjoy interacting with others."
While they might not spring to mind as an animal humans would be able to connect with, that doesn't mean we should underestimate pigs.
"Miniature pigs have been bred to highlight their qualities as companions to humans," Elisabeth Van Every, from Pet Partners, tells Bustle. "Like many other therapy animal species, they’re social, intelligent, and adaptable."
Research has shown that pigs can solve challenging problems, show a wide range of emotions, and even have unique individual personalities, making them even closer to us.
That's not to say all pigs are down to bond, or that they'll make good pets for everyone. But the next time you see one, keep in mind the deeper connection we share.
"Research shows that horses have a strong capacity to recognize human emotions and positive and negative facial expressions," Tedeschi says. "They are particularly sensitive to anxiety and stress." And they can pick up on our emotions, as a result.
"People can have long, loving and very special relationships if they can build trust and affinity with a horse," Tedeschi says. "This is most often accomplished by understanding horse psychology and communication and offering horses choices within this connection, [giving] trust instead of coercion."
Rabbits have been bred over the years to highlight the more friendly aspects of their nature, and to accept human handling and enjoy contact with humans, Van Every says. It may take time to connect with a specific rabbit, if you were to get one as a pet. So keep in mind that it's a process.
Rats are also down for some human companionship, if you handle them with care. "Domestic rats are extremely social and very intelligent," Van Every says, "with the capacity for complex learning and a desire to interact with others, which they are willing to extend to humans."
"Birds in the parrot family are very social, adaptable, and highly intelligent," Van Every says. So if you were to hang out with someone's pet parakeet — or another bird in the parrot family — you might feel a connection.
"Socialization from a young age can lead to birds that actively enjoy interaction with humans and the opportunity for new experiences," she says.
Since they're herd animals, llamas and alpacas tend to "enjoy companionship," Van Every says. "And like equines, have developed a capacity to learn and follow guidance from humans."
Which is to say most domesticated animals — such as ones we typically keep as pets, or on farms — can share a bond with us humans, in one way or another. It's always a good idea, though, to respect them all, pay attention to the vibes their giving off, and treat them as individuals.