If you’re the kind of person who considers your dog to be baby with extra hair, this might not be surprising, but according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE , the way dogs and human infants bond to their caretakers is more similar than we may have thought.
In the study The Importance of the Secure Base Effect for Domestic Dogs – Evidence from a Manipulative Problem-Solving Task, researchers from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna set out to study the bond between dogs and their caretakers and found “striking similarities to the parent-child relationship in humans,” according to a statement.
While researchers note that domesticated dogs have been associated with humans for thousands of years, they also point out that our relationships with them have grown increasingly complex, in some cases replacing bonds with other dogs. They depend on us not just for basic care, but also for emotional support.
In this case, researchers wanted to study the “secure base effect” that’s found in the bond between parents and children, where children use their parents as a “secure base” for exploring and interacting with their environment. Scientists have already found that children who could use their mother as a secure base were more motivated and persistent in solving tasks, according to the study. However, researchers noted in this case that while it only lasts through infancy in children, dogs carry this behavior into adulthood.
The team studied this effect by observing a group of dogs that could get treats by manipulating an interactive toy, like a Kong with food inside, under three different conditions: with their owner absent, with their owner present but silent and with their owner present and offering them encouragement. As it turns out, when the owner was absent, the dogs were less interested in working for a reward and gave up sooner. On the other hand, when the owners were present, whether or not they were encouraging their dogs or remained silent, the dogs remained motivated for longer.
To follow up this experiment, owners were replaced with strangers. The dogs in this case weren’t very interested in interacting with them or working for food, leaving researchers to conclude that an owner’s presence is an important factor when it comes to dogs behaving confidently.
“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 behaviour evolved in the dogs with direct comparisons,” said lead researcher Lisa Horn.
While bonds between dogs and humans have been studied, researchers believe this is the first study that offers evidence for an owner-specific secure base effect in dogs, confirming their similarity to human children. They also believe it has implications when it comes to behavioral testing because owners’ presence or absence may influence behaviors and test outcomes.
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