We’ve all seen them: Pet owners who treat their dogs or cats
like kids—dressing them up, kissing their lips, feeding them caviar, the works.
Many of them have argued that their relationship with their pets is “just like
having kids.” And guess what? A new scientific study suggests they might be
To see if this behavior existed in dogs, study author Lisa
Horn gave canines a chance to earn food rewards by manipulating toys in three
different conditions: with their owner absent, the owner present but silent, or
with the owner actively offering encouragement.
Dogs, it turned out, were far more interested in the task
when their owners were present—when owners were silent or when they were offering encouragement. Researchers took this as evidence that the
“secure base effect” does indeed exist with dogs. In a follow-up experiment,
Horn replaced the owners with strangers. But the dogs knew the difference, and
had little interest in playing with toys unless their owners were there.
“One of the things that really
surprised us is that adult dogs behave towards their caregivers like human
children do,” said Horn, who published her results in the journal PLOS ONE. Pet owners, in other words,
aren’t as crazy as some parents might think.