In a new study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, scientists have found that the relationship between dogs and their owners is strikingly similar to the child-parent bond in humans.
According to the Humane Society, 46 percent of households in the United States have at least one dog. Dogs are so well adapted to living with humans that, in many cases, the owner assumes the role of the dog’s main social partner.
Certain aspects of the deep bond between dogs and their owners turn out to be very similar to that of young children and their parents.
During the study, the researchers found that one particular aspect of the bond between humans and dogs is something called the “secure base effect.”
This effect is found in parent-child relationships in which babies use their caregivers as a secure base so they can feel safe while interacting with their environment.
Not until recently has the “secure base effect” been investigated in dog-owner relationships.
Lisa Horn, Ph.D., from the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, wanted to get a closer look at the behavior of dogs and their owners. She analyzed dogs’ reactions under three different conditions: absent owner, silent owner and encouraging owner.
For the study, the dogs were given the opportunity to earn a food reward by manipulating interactive dog toys. The dogs seemed far less interested in working for food, however, when their owners were not there compared to when they were.
Interestingly, whether an owner encouraged the dog during the task or remained silent had little influence on the animal’s level of motivation.
In another experiment, the researchers replaced the owner with an unfamiliar person. The scientists found that the dogs barely interacted with the strangers and were not much more motivated in trying to earn the food reward than when this person was not present.
The dogs were far more motivated only when their owner was present. The scientists believe that the owner’s presence encourages the dog to behave in a confident manner.
The study provides the first evidence for the similarity between the “secure base effect” found in dog-owner and child-caregiver relationships. This striking connection will be further studied in direct comparative studies on dogs and children.
“One of the things that really surprised us is that adult dogs behave towards their caregivers like human children do. It will be really interesting to try to find out how this behavior evolved in the dogs with direct comparisons,” said Horn.
Source: PLoS ONE