Those who consider themselves “dog parents” have some solid ammunition to bring to the Thanksgivng table next year, as a new study shows that the relationship between dogs and their owners is similar to the relationship between that of children and their parents.
And it’s similar in one of the main duties of parenting: the ability to nurture. According to a new study in the news, dogs and children share the same mental response to dependency, called the “secure base effect,” in which dogs as well as children rely on a nurturing figure to interact with the world. The parents are a sort of “home base,” a place of comfort that dog and child can easily return to while going on mini-adventures, exploring the world.
The results came about when Lisa Horn of Vetmeduni’s Messerli Research Institute set out to study dog-owner dynamics, and she headed an experiment conducted at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna.
The experiment tested three types of owners of dogs: “absent owners,” “silent owners,” and “encouraging owners.” The owners were matched with dogs who were encouraged to play with interactive toys for treats.
When the owners were absent, the dogs were the least likely to work for their treats. But their motivation level skyrocketed when encouraging owners were present — even if the owners were silent.
When an owner was replaced with a stranger, the dogs weren’t interested in earning their treats. The scientists put this down as a dog lacking the security it needed to face the world and tackle the food reward tasks.
In short, a good owner gives a dog confidence. We think that’s worth an extra treat for the both of you.
“One of the things that really surprised us is that adult dogs behave toward their caregivers like human children do,” said Horn. “It will be really interesting to try to find out how this behavior evolved in the dogs with direct comparisons.”