You really CAN love your pet like a child: Bond between dogs and their owners is ‘similar to that of a parent and baby’

Dog owners assume the role of the canine’s main social partner
Austrian researchers examined the ‘secure base effect’, which is a key element in child/parent bonding
They found an owner’s presence boosts a dog’s confidence when it is interacting with its environment

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PUBLISHED: 13:55, 4 February 2014 | UPDATED: 01:18, 5 February 2014

Domestic dogs have been closely associated with humans for about 15,000 years and canines are so well adapted to living with human beings that in many cases the owner assumes the role of the dog’s main social partner, according to a new study.

Scientists have shown the age old bond between dogs and their owners is much closer to that of parent and child than previously thought.


A recent study claims young adults who care for an animal have stronger social relationships.
U.S. scientists also found that looking after a pet might also boost teenagers’ connections to their communities as well.
The study by psychologists at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, Massachusetts, found that people aged between 18 and 26 who had strong attachments to pets, reported feeling more connected to their communities and relationships.
The study found that young adults who cared for animals reported engaging in more ‘contribution’ activities, such as providing service to their community, helping friends or family and demonstrating leadership, than those who did not look after a pet.
The more actively they participated in the pet’s care, the higher they scored on their sociable deeds.

Austrian researchers said the relationship between pet owners and their dogs is very similar to the deep connection between young children and their parents.
They examined the ‘secure base effect’, which is a key element in child/parent bonding that had not examined between dog owners and their pets.

The effect is when human infants use their caregivers as a secure base when it comes to interacting with the environment.
Dr Lisa Horn from the Vetmeduni’s Messerli Research Institute, which is part of the University of Veterinary Medicine, in Vienna, examined dogs’ reactions under three conditions – when their owner was absent, silent and encouraging.
The dogs could earn a food reward, by manipulating dog toys, according to the study, which was published in the journal PLoS One.
The animals seemed much less keen on working for food when their caregivers were not there than when they were.
Whether an owner encouraged the dog during the task or remained silent had little influence on the animal’s level of motivation.
In a follow-up experiment, Dr Horn and her colleagues replaced the owner with an unfamiliar person.

Scientists examined the ‘secure base effect’ – when human infants use their caregivers as a secure base when it comes to interacting with the environment – and found the presence of an owner makes dogs more confident

The scientists found that dogs barely interacted with the strangers and were not much more interested in trying to get the food reward than when they were alone.
They were only more motivated than when their owner was present.
The researchers concluded that the owner’s presence is important for the animal to behave in a confident manner.
‘The study provides the first evidence for the similarity between the “secure base effect” found in dog/owner and child/caregiver relationships,’ Dr Horn said.
‘This striking parallel will be further investigated in direct comparative studies on dogs and children.’
She added: ‘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 behaviour evolved in the dogs with direct comparisons.’

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