Dog may be a man’s best friend, but a new scientific study suggests that the relationship is similar to that of a parent and its child.

Researchers at the University of Medicine, Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna) have looked closely at the bond between pooches and their owners and found that it has “striking similarities” to parent-child relationships.

The findings, which have been published in the journal PLOS ONE, reveal that dog-owner relationships exhibit the “secure base effect”. This is the term used to describe how human infants tend to use their parents as a base of security when they interact with the environment.

Lisa Horn at the Vetmeduni’s Messerli Research Institute looked this in dogs by having it interact with a toy for a food reward under three different circumstances: “absent owner”, “silent owner” and “encouraging owner”.

She found that if carers were not present, then mutts were less keen on working to get the food, although whether or not the owner encouraged the dog or was silent has minimal influence.

Ms Horn followed up this with a test using strangers to the dogs. Her test found that with an unfamiliar person present they were not inclined to play with the toy and would not interact with the person either.

The research concluded that the presence of a dog’s owner gives it much more confidence in its surroundings, which is the first time the “secure base effect” has been found in canines.

“One of the things that really surprised us is, that adult dogs behave towards their caregivers like human children do,” she said.

“It will be really interesting to try to find out how this behaviour evolved in the dogs with direct comparisons.”

Researchers will now look at the area in greater depth through direct comparative studies on dogs and children.

Written by: Hannah