Most dog owners think their dogs are smart. They train their dogs to perform certain tasks and the dogs perform them. But under what conditions do dogs perform at their best?
Infant humans have what's known as a 'secure base effect,' which simply means that they use their caregiver, most often their mothers, as a safety net from which to explore their environments. Infants feel more confident to play, to investigate, to perform in the presence of their 'base,' which may extend to both parents.
A 2013 study, published by the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, tested whether domestic dogs have a secure base effect - the effect in which secure anchors enhance activity and performance. The results have many implications, not the least of which is a dog's psychological need for a leader to act with assurance.
The studies were conducted in two phases. In the first phase, 20 dogs were tasked with manipulating toys that produced treats, once in the presence of their owners, again when owners were present and encouraging, and again when the owners were not present at all. The result of this experiment was as you may expect: the dogs were most active and successful at manipulating the toys when their owners were present and when they were encouraging. When the owners were not present, most of the dogs didn't even bother with the toys.
In the second part of the study, different dogs were used to test whether the presence of a substitute owner would have a significant effect on the dog's performance. So again, the dogs were observed manipulating the treat toys in the presence of their owners, with the encouragement of their owners, without their owners, and this time, with an unknown substitute person present in place of the owners. Though less active with substitute owners than with their real owners, the dogs performed better with the substitute owners than when they were without an 'anchor.'
It appears that puppies readily attach to various human caregivers, but as they grow older, canines form an attachment to one caregiver in particular and that person, the secure base, provides the safe environment that his dog needs to explore and perform with assurance. This phenomenon is seen even in shelters where an abandoned dog will select one caregiver among several to connect with. That person becomes the dog's secure base even after a relatively short period of time.
This study reveals the need for canines to anchor to a leader. Their interaction with their world, their performance depends on it. So when you meet your next dog in a shelter and he is shy and withdrawn and may have behavioral problems, maybe he's just needing that secure base from which to star. Maybe that secure base is you.
also read: Don't Buy Or Adopt A Pet Online: Here's Why