Does The Idea of Social Capital Apply to Dogs?

January 20, 2021

Social capital is the idea that groups do better when there is trust among the members of the group.  The basic idea is that through trust in others and confidence that others are not out to “get you” everyone in the group benefits; people have better connections with others, society improves because people trust others to treat them fairly, and a handshake is as good and as binding as some document crafted by an expensive lawyer. This idea is usually (ok, to my knowledge always) applied to humans, but can it be applied to dogs?

Dogs with Pet Camp counselor

For most urban dogs, or at least social dogs in an environment like San Francisco, we think the answer is yes.  To enjoy all that San Francisco has to offer its dogs (from pretty amazing off leash play areas to cool doggie day care facilities), dogs must have trust in both their humans and other dogs. They need to trust that their humans (be that their actual humans or stand-in humans such as a Pet Camp counselor) won’t set them up to fail by taking them to an inappropriate dog park, letting them off leash before their recall is well practiced, or putting them in the wrong play group at doggie day care.  Dogs can’t control these things themselves and need to have trust and confidence that a human won’t let them down.

At the same time, dogs need to have social capital with other dogs: they need to have trust and confidence in the dogs with whom they interact. Just like with humans there is a difference between friendship and social capital. Some have asserted that the bond between dogs is friendship, and we suspect that there are certainly dogs that are “friends,” but we very much think that more often we are witnessing social capital being displayed between dogs. For example, most of the time, dogs that are not friends, by which we mean actively seeking out engagement with each other, still have enough trust in each other to pass each other on a crowded street or walk by each other at an off leash dog park without either one trying to “get” the other.

So, what do you think? Is the idea of social capital valid for humans? What about for dogs?

Thanks for reading.


Pet Camp has been providing San Francisco’s best pet care for over 20 years!  From overnight care for your dog or cat to doggie day care, Pet Camp offers a wide range of pet care services.  If you have questions about your dog or cat, or recently adopted a dog or cat during the Covid-19 pandemic, give us a call.

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