You’re Fido’s Security

You provide your dog with needed security

An interesting set of experiments investigating the behavior of dogs helps reinforce the strength of your dog’s attachment to you and shows that you provide your dog with needed security. Researchers from the Department of Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna conducted experiments in dogs to determine if problem-solving in a dog depended on having their owner nearby. In these experiments, the dogs’ owners were considered to be their “secure base”−providing expected security to reduce the dog’s anxiety when facing a new situation. Experiments were conducted in two sets of 20−26 dogs that were mainly Sheep dogs, toy breeds, and mixed breeds. Results were published in the journal PLoS One.

In these experiments, investigators first made certain that dogs would look for and find food hidden under a towel when the dog’s owner was or was not in the room. Then dogs were given an interactive dog feeder filled with treats. An experimenter monitored how long the dogs spent trying to get treats out of the feeder. The tests were conducted when the dog was in the room (1) alone, (2) with an unfamiliar human, or (3) with its owner. When the owner was present, the owner was sometimes instructed to encourage the dog in his task and other times was blindfolded and told to stay silent.

The amount of time the dogs worked at their problem-solving task increased by having a human with the dog−even an unfamiliar human. Time increased more when the owner was in the room. Even having the owner in the room but silent increased the dog’s diligence to his task. On average, dogs spent about:

  • 45 seconds when the dog faced the task alone
  • 75 seconds when an unfamiliar human was in the room with the dog
  • 115 seconds with the silent owner in the room
  • 135 seconds with the encouraging owner

Interestingly, this effect was not affected by the dog’s distress at being removed from its owner. Even those dogs that did not show evidence of separation anxiety performed better when their owner with them.

The researchers concluded that dogs’ owners provide a secure base for them. Other humans may give some social support, but it is less powerful than from the dog’s owner. Having their owner nearby gives a dog more confidence to attend to a problem-solving task, like using an interactive feeder. This research is important for two reasons:

  • First, you may find your dog loves using an interactive feeder or food puzzle toy when you’re around but they don’t seem to use it much when you’re not at home. If that’s the case, it’s probably not because you need better treats−your dog just may not be as comfortable when you’re not around.
  • Second, researchers do a lot of experiments with dogs. When interpreting the results, it’s important to know if the owner was with the dog or not, since having the owner present will likely boost the dog’s success.

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