The director of OSU’s Human-Animal Interaction Laboratory, Monique Udell, and behavioral scientist Lauren Brubaker conducted the study to research how the relationship between a dog and their owner affects the pet’s actions.
“We found that pet parenting style does predict patterns of dog behavior and cognition,”Udell said. “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.”
Findings on human-dog relationships reflect those on human psychology. According to Brubaker, parenting styles play a huge role in a child’s development and impact their mental health, social cognition, job performance and more.
This was depicted in Udell and Brubaker’s study in which they surveyed 48 dog owners’ parenting styles. The survey data was divided into three categories comparable to those used in human parenting research: authoritative – high expectations, high responsiveness, authoritarian – high expectations, low responsiveness and permissive – low expectations, low responsiveness.
After each dog and owner was categorized, they partook in three behavioral tests in the Human-Animal Interaction Lab.
For the first test, each pair was put in the same room where the pet parent was asked to interact with the pet when they would come close. Then, the owner would exit the room before eventually returning to their dog.
The second test placed someone new in the room with the pair, to show how the dog acts around unfamiliar people. During the third test, the dog would try to get a treat from a puzzle with some direction from their owner.
This experiment found that more dogs with authoritative parents had secure attachment styles, were responsive to social cues and were physically close to their owner when there was a new person in the room. Dogs in this category were the only ones who achieved the task of getting the treat from the puzzle.
On the other hand, dogs with authoritarian parents had more insecure attachment styles, but also were closer to their owner than the unfamiliar person in the room.
Lastly, dogs with permissive parents followed the unfamiliar person’s social cues rather than those from their owner. However, they still chose to be close to the owner even if they were unresponsive.
“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,” Brubaker said.