What a dog might feel from being dumped at a shelter

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Dogs feels the same bond to their owners as do children.

Scientists at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna) are studying how animals bond with humans. In findings published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers explain how the bond between dogs and humans is similar to that of a parent and child. The recent study highlights what a dog might feel from being dumped at a shelter.

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Lisa Horn from the Vetmeduni’s Messerli Research Institute investigated the behaviors of dogs and their owners. She explains how important an owner is to a dog. Dogs have bonded with humans for thousands of years and now appear to have evolved to view their adopters the same way as a human child views a parent.

In her experiment she looked at how a dog behaves under three different sets of circumstances:

  • In the presence of a "silent owner"
  • With an “encouraging owner"
  • When the owner is absent

The dogs were given a toy to manipulate. If they interacted with the toy they earned a food reward.

She found out dogs were much less interested in working to earn a treat if the owner was not around. Encouragement from the owners made little difference however.

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In a separate experiment, the dog's owner was replaced with a stranger. The dogs had little interest in interacting with an unfamiliar person. They also were not willing to play with a toy for a reward like they did when their owners were present.

The study authors concluded dogs are much more confident when their owner is around. Children are the same. They need parental guidance to grow and develop to their fullest potential.

The finding could be good for dogs that are often thought of as 'dispensable'; discarded at shelters when they age, a new child comes along, or for a variety of other reasons. It also highlights the importance of understanding how a dog can suffer from losing its owner.

Past studies have shown dogs are as smart as a 2-year old. Some dogs even have expanded vocabularies, can count, and as dog owners know, they are aware when their toys or one of their puppies go missing.

The study authors say the bond between dogs and their owners is known as the 'secure-base effect' that is also found in child-caregiver relationships. The researchers are planning more studies to understand how the dog and human bond evolved over the years, in addition to comparing studies on children and dogs. The study is the first to show dog behavior toward human owners is the same as that of a child. To a dog, being dumped at a shelter might be just as traumatic as if you were sending away your child.

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