Companion dogs are more likely to play with each other when the owner is present and attentive, says a new study, leading to consider the possibility that our poochs perform primarily for our own pleasure.
It is well established that our four-legged companions pay close attention to the level of interest humans show them, Lindsay Mehrkam, an animal behavior specialist, and lead author of the study, told AFP. Animal Cognition journal.
“But we are not aware of (research) having shown the effect of a human audience on the typical behavior of species, in this case, play between dogs,” she said.
Lindsay Mehrkam supervised an experiment involving 10 pairs of companion dogs who lived together for at least six months and usually play together at least once a day, according to their owners.
The researchers videotaped the pairs in three situations: when the master was absent, when the master was present but ignored them, and when the master was present and showing them lots of attention, verbally complimenting them, and when stroking.
To ensure that the experiment was sound, the researchers recreated these situations a total of three times over the course of several days.
According to Lindsay Mehrkam, greater attention from the master promotes play in dogs, with human attention increasing both the frequency and intensity of behaviors such as bowing, swaying, fighting, chasing, biting. affectionate, etc.
“It’s quite striking that dogs who have the opportunity to play with each other when they want to, are nonetheless much more likely to move around and start playing when someone is paying attention to them,” he said. ‘one of the co-authors of the study Clive Wynne from Arizona State University.
Researchers are putting forward several ideas about what could cause this effect.
One of the hypotheses is that the master’s attention might be a reward dogs crave, like young children begging their parents to watch them as they try to show off what they know. make.
Dogs may also have learned that playing with each other brings greater rewards such as the handler joining them in their play, or even taking them outside.
It is also possible that the handler provides the dogs with a sense of security, because while the animals use play to strengthen their bond, the initially playful parts can sometimes become more tense and lead to some form of aggression. The presence of a human would thus serve as an assurance that a fight will not take place.
The presence of a human can also be a trigger that enriches the dog’s environment, possibly causing an influx of oxytocin, the so-called love hormone, which brings about a more positive emotional state and therefore more prompt to play.
“These are the kinds of studies that lead to more questions than answers,” said Lindsay Mehrkam, who added that she was working to unravel the various threads of the results with other experiments underway.