“My dog is like my child.” Many dog lovers feel that close bond with their pets, but is the relationship like that of parent and child?
Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna) studied the relationships between dogs and their owners. They found that the relationships are, indeed, similar to those of parent and child. In the dog’s eyes, the owner is a secure base, just as a caregiver is to a baby.
The researchers analyzed dogs in three conditions: with their owner present and offering encouragement, with their owner present but silent, and with their owner absent. Prompting the dogs to work for a food reward, the dogs were less interested in working for food when their owners were not there than when they were there. Whether the owners encouraged the dogs or remained silent made no difference.
In another experiment, the scientists found that the dogs were much more motivated when their owners were present than when replaced by strangers. The researchers found that the dogs acted in a more confident manner when their owners were around.
This study was the first to show a similarity between the “secure base effect” in children/caregiver relationships and in dog/owner relationships.
The research, led by Lisa Horn from the Vetmeduni’s Messerli Research Institute, was published in PLOS ONE. Future studies to compare dog/owner and child/parent relationships are planned.
“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 Ms. Horn in a press release.
The study did not address the relationship through the dog owner’s eyes, but at least in one respect it seems that dog lovers have had it right all along. Whether or not you view your dog as your child, your dog may view you as their security, much as a human infant views a parent.
Main Post Photo [woman kissing dog]: Photographer: Wavebreakmedia Ltd | Collection: Wavebreak Media | Thinkstock
Photo [woman hugging dog]: Photographer: | Chris Amaral | Collection: Digital Vision | Thinkstock