Best of friends? Investigating the dog-human relationship

Doctoral thesis OPEN
Rehn, Therese (2013)
  • Subject: Animal and Dairy Science.
    mesheuropmc: health care economics and organizations

Dogs are commonly referred to as man's best friend, but the main focus of this thesis was to investigate how the dog experiences the relationship. The first part of the thesis dealt with methodology currently used to assess the dog-human relationship: the Strange Situation Procedure (SSP) and the Monash Dog Owner Relationship Scale (MDORS). In one experiment, possible associations between the dog's bond to its owner (using the SSP) and the strength of the owner's relationship to the dog (using the MDORS) were investigated. Associations found were linked to how much the owner interacted with the dog on a daily basis, but not to the level of the owner's emotional closeness to the dog. In another experiment, the SSP was evaluated for its suitability to measure a dog's bond to a human. Findings showed that the test procedure was sensitive to order effects, but that there was variation in how the dog behaved during reunion with the person. The second part of the thesis targeted the dog's reaction upon reunion with a human in different situations. In one study, the effect of time being separated from the owner was studied in the dog's home. While the owner was away dogs rested for most of the time, regardless of the duration of time alone. But once the owner returned, dogs initiated more physical contact and expressed higher frequencies of lip licking, body shaking and tail wagging after a longer duration of separation compared to a shorter one. In the final study, the type of interaction initiated by the human upon reunion was manipulated and endocrine measures were taken to better interpret the dog's behavioural reaction. It was found that when the person initiated both physical and verbal ('full') contact with the dog, oxytocin levels increased and stayed high for a longer time after the reunion event compared to when the person only talked to the dog or ignored it. The levels of physical contact initiated by the dog and lip licking behaviour were highest when the person interacted fully with the dog. In summary, at reunion the dog's greeting behaviour differed according to the familiarity of the person, to the duration of the separation and to the type of interaction initiated by the person. It is proposed that this variation in dog behaviour during reunion should be the target of future studies of dog-human relationships.
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