Your Community

Dogs and babies 'strikingly similar' around human parents, study finds

Categories: Community, Science & Technology

 Scientists say the unique relationship between adult dogs and their human owners bears a remarkable resemblance to the infant attachment bond formed between parents and young children. (iStock)If you've ever razzed a friend for doting on his dog too much, take note: new research shows that baby-talking a Boston Terrier isn't quite as silly as it may look.

A German research paper published this week in the journal PLOS ONE reveals that the relationships between dogs and their owners are strikingly similar in character to the relationships between parents and very young children.

In a study called The Importance of the Secure Base Effect for Domestic Dogs - Evidence from a Manipulative Problem-Solving Task, scientists from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna used interactive, treat-dispensing toys to examine the ways in which dogs interact with their environments.

Researchers found that when a dog's owner was in the same room as the toy, that dog was significantly more motivated to work for a treat. The dogs were less motivated when nobody was in the room, or when an unknown human was present.

The amount of encouragement owners gave to the dogs had no bearing on the pet's behaviour - simply having the owner present gave the dogs more confidence. Lead researcher Lisa Horn of the Vetmeduni Messerli Research Institute cited something called the "secure base effect," typically observed in parent-child bonding, as a possible reason for this phenomenon.

"The survival of infants in humans, as well as in many non-human animal species it is essential that infants develop a strong affectional bond with their primary caregiver - usually the mother," reads the study's introduction.

"Although [John] Bowlby's original attachment theory had been developed in regard to human children, the same behavioral components have been found in infant-caregiver relationships in many bird and mammal species."

This study marks the first time that attachment bonds have been studied between humans and dogs, which were chosen as a species for their closeness to human society.

Domesticated dogs have been associated with humans for approximately 15,000 years according to the research team, and in many cases a pooch's owner assumes the role of their pet's main social partner.

"This unique relationship between adult dogs and their human owners bears a remarkable resemblance to an infant attachment bond," Horn writes. "Dogs are dependent on human care and their behavior seems specifically geared to engage their owners' care-giving system."

How close are you to your dog? Would you compare your relationship to that of a parent and an infant? Share your thoughts and stories below.

Tags: POV

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.