How you 'parent' your pooch has an impact on the kind of dog it grows up to be, a new study shows. An owner who's highly responsive to a dog's behavior and needs tends to lead to a more social, secure, and smart canine.
Parenting styles and choices are known to influence the way that children develop and grow. Researchers are now discovering more about a somewhat similar relationship between owners and their pets.
The researchers recruited 48 dog owners and their pets, asking them to complete a pet parenting style survey before participating in three behavioral tests in the lab, assessing attachments and interactions between the dogs and their humans.
"We found that pet parenting style does predict patterns of dog behavior and cognition," says animal behaviorist Monique Udell from Oregon State University.
"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."
Based on the initial surveys, researchers put the dog owners into three categories, similar to categories used in human parenting research: authoritative (high expectations, high responsiveness), authoritarian (high expectations, low responsiveness), and permissive (low expectations, high responsiveness).
The three behavioral tests covered attachment (how the dog responded to its owner during close interactions), sociability (how the dog responded when a stranger and its owner traded places with one another in the testing room, and problem-solving(challenging the dog to get a treat from a puzzle with either no interaction at all or verbal encouragement and gestures from the owner).
Overall, dogs with authoritative owners had the highest rate of secure attachment and were highly social and sensitive to social context, compared to dogs with authoritarian or permissive owners. What's more, the only dogs to solve the puzzle task came from the authoritative group.
The study matches up in some ways with previous research into parents and kids; specifically that children with authoritative parents are more likely to show secure attachment, thought to be because of the consistent, reliable support they get.
"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," says behavioral scientist Lauren Brubaker from Oregon State University.
The research opens up some interesting new questions – why, for example, did the dogs with permissive owners respond to the social cues of the stranger they were with but not their owner in one of the tests?
For now, though, the study is enough to show that there is some kind of relationship between the approach we take as dog owners and the way that those dogs then behave, even with numerous other factors in play.
"More research in this area is needed, especially replications with larger sample sizes and across different populations and cultures," write the researchers in their published paper.
"However, our findings suggest that in the sampled population pre-existing dog–owner relationship quality served as a significant predictor of dog behavior across all three domains."
The research has been published in Animal Cognition.