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Healthy Pets

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Is Your Fido Really a Furry Baby?

Study found dog's bond to owner mirrors child's connection with parent


"The key finding of this study is that the mere presence of the caregiver can provide security for the dog. This security depends on the relationship that the dog has with the person. This we can see in the fact that replacing the owner with an unfamiliar person does not increase the dog's sense of security much," said lead researcher Lisa Horn, a postdoctoral fellow at Vetmeduni's Messerli Research Institute.

"We were mainly surprised by the fact that the owner's encouragement did not increase the dog's motivation to manipulate the interactive toys much compared to when the owner was completely silent," Horn added. "In my opinion, this is a strong indication that the dogs' motivation in our task was intrinsic and depended on their sense of security, not on whether they were "told" to do the task."

The finding provides evidence for a secure base effect in dogs that mirrors the bond found in infant-caregiver relationships, they explained.

One expert offered a caveat.

It's possible the dogs were less hungry when their owners were not there, noted Dr. Katherine Houpt, professor emeritus of Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

"Certainly dogs are attached to us. They may be upset when their owners are away even if they don't show behaviors like trash tearing," she said. "Their performance showed that they did better when the owner was there and it didn't seem to make a difference if the owner was encouraging them or not. As long as the owner was there, they would try as hard as they were going to try," Houpt added.

Horn concluded in a statement that the authors aim to continue their research by directly comparing behaviors in 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 [children]," Horn said.

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