CORVALLIS, Ore. — Want to be a great dog parent? Researchers from Oregon State University have a few suggestions. Their study found that dogs tend to be more social when away from their owners, and more persistent problem solvers if their owners “have high expectations” and are highly responsive to the pup’s behaviors and needs.
“We found that pet parenting style does predict patterns of dog behavior and cognition,” says Monique Udell, an associate professor at Oregon State and an expert on dog behavior, in a university release. “This an important finding because it suggests that dog owners who take the time to understand and meet their dog’s needs are more likely to end up with secure, resilient dogs.”
There has been a lot of research on the behavior and cognition of dogs in recent decades, with most studies focusing specifically on how dog behavior is influenced by both home environment and earlier experiences. More recently, scientists have begun analyzing the bond between owners and dogs, and how that relationship influences canine behaviors.
Even the use of the term “dog owner” is becoming antiquated. Many pet care companies have started marketing their product to “pet parents” instead of pet owners.
According to study co-author Lauren Brubaker, who earned her doctorate in 2019 while working in Udell’s lab, modern research on human-dog relationships parallels human psychology research. Studies show that human parenting behaviors play a huge role in how a child develops and matures into an adult. This new research suggests human parents have a big impact on their canine kids as well.
Pet owners have the same parenting styles as moms and dads
The study is among the first to assess how the quality of a human-dog relationship may influence a dog’s performance on behavioral and cognitive tests. A group of 48 dog owners received a pet parenting style survey. The data collected from those surveys helped the team divide participants into one of three groups: authoritative (high expectations, high responsiveness), authoritarian (high expectations, low responsiveness), and permissive (low expectations, low responsiveness). Importantly, those same three categories are often the same in human parenting research.
Next, all of the participants’ dogs traveled to Udell’s Human-Animal Interaction Lab, where they participated in three behavioral tests. The first test measured the pups’ attachment to their owners. To start, both owner and dog were in the same room. If the dog came over, the human parent was free to interact with their dog. Then, the owner had to leave the room for a period of time before returning to reunite with his or her dog.
The second test measured sociability. Owner, dog, and an unfamiliar stranger were all in the same room. The third test involved the dogs trying to get a treat from a puzzle with varying levels of help from their owners.
Those three experiments produced the following findings:
- Dogs with authoritative owners were most likely to exhibit secure attachment styles, were highly responsive to social cues, showed a proximity-seeking preference towards their owner in comparison to a stranger, and were more independently persistent during the puzzle task. Also, only dogs within this group successfully solved the puzzle.
- Dogs with authoritarian owners, meanwhile, were more likely to be insecurely attached to their primary caretaker in comparison to dogs in the authoritative cohort. These dogs also spent more time seeking the proximity of their owner compared to the stranger during the sociability test.
- Dogs with permissive owners actually followed the social cues of the stranger but not their owner. These dogs spent comparable time in proximity with their owner regardless of whether or not their owner was attentive. Pups in this group were also less persistent at the solvable task in the human-neutral condition.
“This research shows that the pet dog-human caretaker bond may be functionally and emotionally similar to the bond between a human parent and their child,” Dr. Brubaker concludes.
The study is published in the journal Animal Cognition.