Jun
25
2013

Many pet owners have called dogs their children for years, but now there is research to support their use of the terminology.

Researchers from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, conducted a study to explore the similarities in relationships between dogs and their owners, and children and their parents.

According to a news release from the university, researchers found that dogs and human infants both exhibit the "secure base effect" when bonding with adult humans. This means that dogs and children both derive confidence from the adult's presence, which gives them the motivation to interact with the environment.

During the study, researchers demonstrated the "secure base effect" by observing how dogs behave under three conditions: with the owner absent, with a silent owner, and with an owner who encouraged the dog. Under these three separate conditions, the dogs were enabled to earn a food reward by manipulating dog toys.

According to researchers, the results showed that the dogs were less motivated to earn food with their owners absent. The dogs showed increased motivation in the presence of their owners, but it did not matter significantly if the owner was silent or encouraging.

The dogs' behavior was further tested by placing them in a room with a stranger rather than their owner. According to researchers, the dogs were much less motivated to attempt to earn a food reward with the stranger than with their owner.

Now that the study has established a similarity between child and dog behaviors, the researchers intend to conduct further studies to shed more light on their findings, the university reported.

"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 Lisa Horn, from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna.

Read the full study at PLOS ONE

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