Interesting science

I just read about some research that demonstrates one effect owners have on their dogs. Like a child in the presence of a known and trusted adult, dogs will work harder and longer at challenging tasks if their owner is present. What I get from this is that we really are a team when we work with our dogs, that both of us (probably) are smarter and better when we’re together. Perhaps it’s wishful interpretation of data by a dog lover. Perhaps not.

Here’s the abstract:

The importance of the secure base effect for domestic dogs – evidence from a manipulative problem-solving task.

Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria ; Clever Dog Lab Society, Vienna, Austria.


BACKGROUND: It has been suggested that dogs display a secure base effect similar to that found in human children (i.e., using the owner as a secure base for interacting with the environment). In children, this effect influences their daily lives and importantly also their performance in cognitive testing. Here, we investigate the importance of the secure base effect for dogs in a problem-solving task.

METHODOLOGY PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Using a manipulative task, we tested dogs in three conditions, in which we varied the owner’s presence and behavior (Experiment 1: “Absent owner”, “Silent owner”, “Encouraging owner”) and in one additional condition, in which the owner was replaced by an unfamiliar human (Experiment 2: “Replaced owner”). We found that the dogs’ duration of manipulating the apparatus was longer when their owner was present than absent, irrespective of the owner’s behavior. The presence of an unfamiliar human however did not increase their manipulation. Furthermore, the reduced manipulation during the absence of the owner was not correlated with the dog’s degree of separation distress scored in a preceding attachment experiment.

CONCLUSIONS SIGNIFICANCE: Our study is the first to provide evidence for an owner-specific secure base effect in dogs that extends from attachment tests to other areas of dogs’ lives and also manifests itself in cognitive testing – thereby confirming the remarkable similarity between the secure base effect in dogs and in human children. These results also have important implications for behavioral testing in dogs, because the presence or absence of the owner during a test situation might substantially influence dogs’ motivation and therefore the outcome of the test.

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1 Response to Interesting science

  1. Nancy Sheridan says:

    Makes perfect sense to me. There is mutuality, reciprocity, connection. I see it in my work with teens. When I bare witness, validate and listen. And vice versa, I do better work based on how they respond to me. If I miss something, I get another try, which is a testament to the relationship. If only most humans related to each other as you and Chico do, as most loving dog- human / family connections.

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