Dogs have earned the nickname “man’s best friend” for good reason. They can smell our stress, cry tears of joy when we’re together, and show interest when we’re away. It seems only fair that people return the favor by treating our canine friends with the same respect they show us.
However, when it comes to dog ownership, there are many different styles of raising dogs – and not all are created equal or result in happy, well-adjusted dogs. This was the subject of a recent study published in the scientific journal Animal Cognition, which sought to understand what makes for emotionally healthy, well-adjusted, happy dogs.
Permissive owners, while kinder to their dogs, “had lower expectations for things like training and compliance.”
For this study, scientists looked at dogs’ reactions when their owners left and returned; how they responded to strangers when they were with their owners; and how they interact with their owners when trying to win a game.
Their findings? The most successful dog owners are “authoritative” rather than “permissive” or “authoritarian.” The researchers’ findings could have major implications for how pet owners train their dogs.
But what does it mean to be an “authoritarian” pet parent — or one that is permissive or authoritative? Salon spoke with the researchers involved in the study to better understand what makes Fido such a good boy.
“Authoritarian pet parents are those who have high expectations of their dog but are less accustomed to adjusting their behavior in response to the dog’s needs, whereas authoritative pet parents both have high expectations of their dog and are willing to adjust their behavior to make their dog feel comfortable, safe, and supported.” to help,” said Oregon State University professor Dr. Monique Udell told Salon in an email.
Udell added that while the owners who gave the permission were kind to their dogs, they “had lower expectations for things like training and following rules.” Conversely, dogs with influential pet parents strike a happy environment. They have “high expectations combined with high warmth and sensitivity,” and in response, their dogs “were usually more secure and showed more assertiveness.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is “similar to what has been observed in human children,” notes Udell.
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Udell believes the new research is important because it contributes to our understanding of dogs as individuals and as a social species whose behavior is greatly influenced by attached companions, including humans. Dogs are not only a product of their genes, but also a product of the psychological environment created for them by the people they interact with on a regular basis.
This isn’t the first study to uncover the complexities of the canine mind. Indeed, as dog cognition has become a more studied field in the past decade, research has repeatedly shown that dogs and humans are more similar in intelligence than we thought.
“Influential pet parents both have high expectations of their dogs and are willing to adjust their behavior to make their dogs feel comfortable, safe and supported.”
Indeed, dogs can have learning disabilities similar to those experienced in humans, such as difficulty with attention and hyperactivity tendencies similar to human ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). Like humans, dogs can become jealous if they feel that someone else is competing for attention with a person they are interested in. More tragically, some dogs can develop a neurodegenerative disorder similar to the human disease known as dementia—cognitive dysfunction in dogs.
Now, this new study further demonstrates the many dog-human similarities by examining how dogs, like humans, develop emotionally when treated with love and trained to “high expectations.”
Udell also offered advice for struggling dog owners.
“Some questions an owner may want to ask include: Is the distressing behavior new? Could there be an underlying health problem? When does the behavior occur? Is there anything I can change in the environment or in my dogs routine that might help the situation? ?” Udell suggested. “Usually solving problems with dogs starts with understanding when and why the behavior may be occurring. Seeking professional help early can make this step easier and help them get to a solution sooner.”
In terms of the paper’s implications for those struggling with dog training, Udell also offered advice.
“Our research shows that the desire to really understand what your dog is communicating through his behavior and responding appropriately can have a significant impact on his well-being and the human-dog bond,” he said.