Individuality In Dog-Human Relationships
Researchers have extensively studied the relationship between a human and their companion dog(s). In some ways, the relationship resembles that of a child and parent. Therefore, we can use similar terms to describe the emotional attachment between a human and their dog(s). This literature review, published in Applied Animal Behavior Science by the International Society for Applied Ethology, evaluates the approaches used in previous studies on dog-human relationships. The review also makes suggestions for future studies.
In the relationship between a human and dog companion, the human takes on the role of the caregiver. And the dog takes on the role of the attached individual. Researchers have used multiple methods in the past to study this relationship. For one method, researchers place the dog in a stressful situation with and without their human companion. They then observe the dog’s response in each case. For another method, researchers ask the human to fill out questionnaires. And these include questions about the person’s subjective perception of their relationship with their dog and about the time the person spends with their dog.
The aforementioned studies have often found that when people spend more time with their dogs, the dogs display more attachment behavior. Often, the human’s perception of their relationship with their dog is inaccurate if they feel close to their dog, but do not actually spend much time with him or her.
Researchers also use physiological tests to study dog-human relationships. They measure hormones such as oxytocin. This is a “love hormone” released in both dogs and humans when they interact. They may also record the variability in a dog’s heart rate. Dogs with secure attachments have less variable heart rates when they face a stressful situation in the presence, rather than absence, of their human companions.
According to the authors of this review, future studies should identify both the attachment style of the dog and the caregiving strategy of the human. Future studies should also combine behavioral evaluations with physiological measures. And it may be valuable to place more focus on behaviors displayed by both dogs and humans when they are separated and reunited.
Animal advocates can use the knowledge from future studies about different caregiving and attachment styles in a variety of ways. These include the ways we interact with companion animals in our own homes, what advice we give to others, and how we apply the knowledge to animal sheltering operations. This review shows that researchers have already studied dog-human relationships in different ways. But it also shows that there is more work to be done to study the relationship between humans and companion dogs more effectively.