Being bossy and caring about your dog makes him smarter and more stable, study finds

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It is clear that the way a person educates and takes care of his dog influences the behavior of the latter. A team of researchers wondered to what extent the quality of the human-dog relationship can influence the performance of the animal, both behaviorally and cognitively. Their study reveals that an authoritative owner, both demanding and attentive to the needs of his dog, leads to a dog that is more sensitive to social cues and more intelligent.

The behavior and cognition of domestic dogs has received increasing scientific attention in recent decades. Several studies have explored the influence of life variables, including home environment and past experiences, on dogs’ social behavior and problem-solving ability. However, only a few studies have empirically investigated how the quality of the handler-dog relationship can influence animal performance.

Two animal behavior specialists from Oregon State University, Lauren Brubaker and Monique Udell, have taken an interest in the question. ” In this study, we investigated whether the expectations and reaction patterns of the owner towards his dog could predict the dog’s social behavior and problem solving. “, they explain in the review Pet Cognition. They recruited 48 dog owners and interviewed them about how they raised their animals. The dogs were then brought to Udell’s Human-Animal Interaction Lab, where they participated in several behavioral tests.

“Parent” rather than “master”?

In many ways, research on human-dog relationships parallels research in human psychology, Lauren Brubaker said. Parents’ attitudes have been shown to significantly influence their children’s mental health, intellectual achievement, social cognition, attachment, and job performance.

Thus, just as parental behavior is considered an important factor in the development of a child, it is logical to think that their attitude towards their animal – what specialists call the Pet Parenting Style — influences the development of the dog. The authors of the study point out that many pet care companies have seized on this link and are now targeting pet “parents” rather than pet “owners” to sell. their products.

This study is one of the first to examine how the quality of the human-dog relationship can influence dog performance on behavioral and cognitive tests. Based on data collected during the pre-test survey, dog owners were divided into three categories, similar to those used in human education:

  • “authoritarian”, which corresponds to high expectations and great reactivity (in the sense that the person responds to the needs of his animal);
  • “authoritarian”, which corresponds to high expectations, but low responsiveness (a form of total control, without any affectionate attention);
  • “permissive”, which corresponds to both low expectation and low responsiveness – which means that the owner imposes few rules and does not worry about his animal.

During the behavioral tests, glaring differences appeared between the dogs of these different groups. ” We found that pet training style predicts dog behavior and cognition “said Monique Udell.

Being bossy and caring leads to more secure and resilient dogs

The first test aimed to assess the attachment of the dogs to their handler: the handler and the dog were initially in the same room, the handler interacting with the dog when the latter approached. Then, the owner left the room and came back a little later to find his dog. The second test assessed the animal’s sociability: the owner and an unknown person were in the same room as the dog, while scientists studied the animal’s interactions with one or the other. . Finally, in the third test, the dog had to attempt to get a treat by solving a problem, with varying levels of help from its handler.

Dogs with an “authoritative” owner had the highest rate of secure attachment (they calmed down quickly when their owner disappeared and then returned), were very sensitive to social cues, showed a preference for seeking closeness towards their owner compared to an unknown person and finally, showed themselves to be more independent and persevering in the problem-solving task. Only the dogs of this group have also managed to solve this task, report the two specialists.

Conversely, dogs whose master was considered “authoritarian” did not show the same level of secure attachment to their master; they also spent more time seeking proximity to their master during the sociability test, the study authors point out. Finally, dogs whose owners were “permissive” willingly followed the social cues of the unknown person, but not those of their owner. These dogs were also less persistent in the task at hand.

These results suggest that dog owners who take the time to understand and meet their pet’s needs are more likely to have dogs that feel safe and resilient. ” This research shows that the bond between the companion dog and its owner can be functionally and emotionally similar to the bond between a human parent and its child. concludes Brubaker.

Source: L. Brubaker et al., Animal Cognition

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