Humans and dogs have lived together for the last 30,000 years and since then dogs have truly become our best friends and to many our fur babies! We can tell dogs like spending time with us but do they really think we are their parents. We did some digging to find out.
Secure Base Effect Theory
Well, dog owners, you will be happy to hear that research has confirmed dogs do think of us as their parents, at least to some extent. Researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria were interested to see how dogs responded to their owners and their relationship with us. To determine how dogs felt about us, they used a theory called “secure base effect” which is used when children see their parents as a secure base when they are interacting with their environments. This idea that children use their parents as a safety net has been shown to have a huge impact’s on a child’s life, so it was important to see if the same behaviour would occur with dogs and their owners.
The researchers set up a series of scenarios for the dogs to participate in that would show if this same behaviour occurred. The first situation was with an absent owner, the second was with a silent but present owner, and the third was with an encouraging owner. In each of this situations, the dog was able to play with a toy that when figured out correctly they were presented with a food reward. While this was happening the owner was either absent, silent, or encouraging.
The researchers discovered that the dogs were much less motivated to figure out how the toy worked when their owners were absent than when they were present. It seemed that whether the owner was silent or encouraging had little impact on the dog’s motivation meaning that they just wanted their owner to be there. The researchers wanted to see if it was the presence of the owner that made them motivated or if it was just the presence of any human. They redid the study with strangers and it turns out that whether a stranger was absent or present had no impact on the dog’s motivation to get their reward.
The Final Phase
To continue to prove their theory, the dogs were placed in a room with a piece of clothing worn either by their owner or a stranger. When the dogs were alone in the room they would paw at their owner's clothes and sit close to them. This idea that dogs use their owners not only for comfort but also when they are scared or worried is completely different than other animals such as cats and horses.
This study shows us that dogs look to their owners as a security base much like children do with their parents. Although we may not be related by blood, there is a deep connection between our dogs and us.
Info obtained from BarkPost.