Scientists at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna said human infants use their caregivers as a secure base when it comes to interacting with the environment -- a toddler stands by a parent and gingerly takes a few steps to investigate his or her environment knowing a parent is nearby.
Lisa Horn of Vetmeduni's Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine examined the reactions of dogs under three conditions: absent owner, silent owner and encouraging owner. The dogs could earn a food reward by manipulating interactive dog toys.
The study, published in the journal Plos One, found the dogs seemed much less interested in working for the food, when their caregivers were not present. However, an owner encouraging the dog during the task appeared to have little influence on the animal's level of motivation, Horn said.
In a follow-up experiment, Horn and colleagues replaced the owner with an unfamiliar person. The scientists observed the dogs hardly interacted with the strangers and were not interested in trying to get the food reward.
The researchers concluded that the owner's presence was important for the animal to behave in a confident manner -- the so-called "secure base effect" in parents and children.
"One of the things that really surprised us was adult dogs behave towards their caregivers like human children do," Horn said in a statement.