Study Suggests Pet Owners Who Call Dogs Their ‘Children’ Aren’t Delusional After All
I am a huge animal lover. I mean huge. I am the proud pet parent owner of a 7-year-old Aussie-shepherd/min-pin mix dog and four cats, including the cutest kitten in the world. That being said, nothing bugs me more than people who compare their little furballs to real, live children. But according to a recent study, those people might not be too far off the mark.
The study, which was published in PLOS One this week, shows that the bond formed between man’s best friend and its owner is similar to that of one between an infant and its mom or dad. The phenomenon is referred to as the “secure base effect” and it occurs when babies (and apparently fur babies) use their parent/owner as a “home base” of sorts when interacting with the world.
Previous studies suggested that this bond existed because dogs show signs of distress when they are without their owners in unfamiliar situations. Anyone who had ever moved with a dog, only to discover every inch of your new house covered in dog poop after returning from work can attest to this. Wait, is that just my dog?
Researchers tested this theory by examining the behaviors of 20 adult dogs, with and without their human companions present. The conclusion they came to was that the dogs were more excited to play when their owners were there to make them feel secure, similar to how a toddler acts on their first day of preschool before mommy and daddy leave the room. According to Lisa Horn, a postdoctoral fellow from the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, who was involved with the study:
“One of the things that really surprised us is, that adult dogs behave towards their caregivers like human children do. It will be really interesting to try to find out how this behavior evolved in the dogs.”
Before you “my little furry baby is exactly like your human baby” people get too smug, this study is far from conclusive. I would be interested to see how this holds up if, say, 10,000 dogs were studied rather than 20.
Even if the bond between us and our fur-tastic friends is similar, that doesn’t make owning a pet the same as raising a baby. You can’t leave a baby alone while you head out to see a Dave Mathews Band concert (not that anyone would want to do that), and you certainly don’t push an eight pound puppy out of your vagina/c-section. You also can’t run down to the closest orphanarium and pick up a rescue baby.