Posted on Saturday, August 31st, 2013
We’ve all known that dog owner who loves to baby his or her pet as much as possible and often treats it like another member of the family. In fact, there may some science that backs up all this fawning over pets, as a recent psychiatric study conducted by the Vetmeduni Messerli Research Institute in Austria has found that dogs and their owners share a very similar bond to that between young children and their parents, reported Medical News Today. In what the experts called the “secure base effect,” both dogs and children associated safety and security with their parents, and this helps to indelibly strengthen the bond between them. Additionally, with over 15,000 years of close relationships between dogs and humans, bonding has simply become natural. “The animals are so well adapted to living with human beings that in many cases the owner replaces and assumes the role of the dog’s main social partner,” Lisa Horn, Ph.D., wrote.
How the study unfolded
To test their theory that dog-owner relationships are just as powerful parent-child instances, the reactions of a sample size of dogs were analyzed with pet parents who played the role of “absent owner,” “silent owner” and “encouraging owner.” The owners then manipulated dog toys to get the dogs to earn a reward for food, and then the same actions were repeated with a group of strangers. The researchers found that even when the dog owners varied their moods, it had no impact on the dogs’ motivations to seek reward and please their owners. However, when they were not present, the animals were less likely to interact with strangers.
According to The Week, the researchers concluded that dogs are far more likely to act in a confident manner or respond to stimuli when their owners were present. “The study provides the first evidence for the similarity between the ‘secure base effect’ found in dog-owner and child-caregiver relationships,” Horn wrote. “It will be really interesting to try and find out how this behavior evolved in the dogs with direct comparisons.” The study shows that dogs really are pickier about who they seek attention from than was previously thought, even with warmth, encouragement and a tasty treat in tow. The next step for researchers is to begin conducting direct comparative studies on both dogs and children to examine just how similar their relationships are with their caregivers.
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