Scientists in a recent study have stated that the bond between the dog and its owner is quite similar to the relationship between a parent and a child.
One aspect of the bond between humans and dogs is the so-called "secure base effect." This effect has also been found in parent-child bonding: human infants use their caregivers as a secure base when it comes to interacting with the environment.
Until recently the "secure base effect" had not been well examined in dogs. Lisa Horn from the Vetmeduni's Messerli Research Institute took a closer look at the behaviour of dogs and their owners.
She examined the dogs' reactions under three different conditions: "absent owner", "silent owner" and "encouraging owner." The dogs could earn a food reward, by manipulating interactive dog toys.
Surprisingly, they seemed much less keen on working for food, when their caregivers were not there than when they were. Whether an owner additionally encouraged the dog during the task or remained silent, had little influence on the animal's level of motivation.
In a follow-up experiment, she and her colleagues replaced the owner with an unfamiliar person. The scientists observed that dogs hardly interacted with the strangers and were not much more interested in trying to get the food reward than when this person was not there.
The dogs were much more motivated only 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 has been published in the Journal PLoS ONE.