JOPLIN, Mo. — Parents will debate the best way to raise their children for as long as we’re around, but it turns out that parenting styles can really impact the behavior of dogs, too.
Like children, researchers found that dogs are influenced by parenting styles. According to recent findings published by Oregon State University, dogs with owners who have high expectations and are highly responsive to their dog’s behavior and needs, are more social, more secure when away from their owners, and are more persistent problem solvers.
Now, researchers are beginning to study the bond owners have with their dogs and how this influences dog behavior. Many pet care companies have picked up on this bond and are now marketing their products to “pet parents” instead of pet owners.
Jeremy Griffitt, a professional dog trainer and owner of Griff’s Good Dogs, said the results of this new study makes a lot of sense. “Dog owners should be motivated to get everything out of their dog that they can, rather than just get a ‘Christmas puppy’ and let their kids roll around with it and never take it out of the house, and then expect it to be socialized and be okay with things,” said Griffitt.
The researchers’ study, recently published in the scientific journal, Animal Cognition, is one of the first to look at how the quality of a human-dog relationship may influence a dog’s performance on behavioral and cognitive tests.
“A little bit of homework and a little bit of motivation can hit expectations that people just don’t understand, including the type of bond you can have with your dog. You think you love your dog, until you start training it and then you fall in love,” said Griffitt.
For the study, Oregon State University researchers Monique Udell and Lauren Brubaker recruited 48 dog owners and gave them a pet parenting style survey. Using the survey data, dog owners were divided into three categories, which are similar to those used in human parenting research: Authoritative (high expectations, high responsiveness), authoritarian (high expectations, low responsiveness) and permissive (low expectations, low responsiveness).
The researchers’ findings included:
- Dogs with authoritative owners were the most likely to have secure attachment styles, were highly responsive to social cues, showed a proximity-seeking preference towards their owner compared to an unfamiliar person and were more independently persistent in the puzzle task. Only dogs in this group successfully solved the puzzle task.
- Dogs with authoritarian owners were more likely to be insecurely attached to their primary caretaker when compared to dogs in the authoritative group. These dogs also spent more time seeking the proximity of their owner compared to the unfamiliar person in the sociability test.
- Dogs with permissive owners followed the social cues of the unfamiliar person but not their owner. The dogs spent comparable time in proximity with their owner regardless of whether their owner was attentive or not. These dogs were also less persistent at the solvable task in the human-neutral condition.
“Dogs are living beings and they make their own decisions, but if we can help them make proper decisions and work with their abilities, it’s unbelievable the leaps and bounds you can make,” said Griffitt.