If you have a dog, you probably feel a strong bond with it. A recent study found that this bond may be important to dogs, too.
Researchers at Oregon State University looked at the relationship between kids and dogs. They recruited 30 young people, ages 8 to 17, who have dogs.
The kids brought their dogs to an empty, warehouse-like room. There, a kid was asked to walk around the huge space, sometimes pausing or changing direction. “And the dog was left to do whatever the dog wanted to do–run around the room, or sniff, or lie down and take a nap,” says Monique Udell, one of the study’s authors.
But most of the time, the dog didn’t do any of those things. Instead, it stayed close and moved similarly to its owner. When the kid walked, the dog usually walked too. When the kid stopped, the dog stopped. When the kid turned and changed direction, so did the dog. The dogs did this far more often than you would expect them to do it by chance.
What does this mean? Udell says it’s a dog’s way of building a relationship with a human. Dogs did this with kids, even though adults are usually the ones who feed and care for pets. “The kid may play a sibling role in the life of the dog,” Udell says. “This implies those bonds are important to them.”
So far, Udell’s team has focused on dogs. But the researchers would like to do similar studies with cats and other types of pets. Udell suspects that the animal-human bond extends to them, as well.