Does your dog really want to spend time with you and not with someone else? Everyone likes to think that this is the case, but research shows that things are a little more complicated.
Studies have already established that in the presence of their owner, dogs interact more actively with objects and explore the room than in the presence of a stranger. And, of course, you have noticed that after separation, pets greet their owners longer and with more enthusiasm than strangers.
However, studies have shown that how dogs behave towards their owners and strangers can be situational and environmentally sensitive.
Florida researchers conducted an experiment during which they observed with whom domestic dogs would prefer to communicate in various situations – with the owner or a stranger.
One group of dogs had to communicate with the owner or a stranger in a familiar place – in a room in their own home. The other group chose between interacting with the owner or a stranger in an unfamiliar place. The dogs were free to do whatever they wanted; if they approached a person, he stroked them as long as they wanted to.
What are the results? It turned out that dogs can make different choices depending on the situation!
The owner is above all
In an unfamiliar place, dogs spend most of their time with their owner – about 80%. However, in a familiar place, as the study showed, they prefer to spend most of their time – about 70% – chatting with strangers.
Should you be upset that you are not always in the first place for your pet? Probably not, said study lead author Erica Feuerbacher, now an assistant professor of pet behavior and welfare at Virginia Tech.
“When a dog finds himself in a stressful situation, in an unfamiliar place, the owner is very important to him – so for your pet you still remain number one.”
Julie Hecht, Ph.D. at the City University of New York, notes that the study “combines a body of knowledge about how situations and environments can influence a dog’s behavior, preferences, and choices.”
“In new places or in moments of discomfort, dogs tend to seek out their owners. When dogs feel comfortable, they are more likely to interact with strangers. People who live with dogs can watch their pets for themselves and notice this behavior!”
Stranger is not forever
Feuerbacher, lead author of the study, agrees that in a familiar place and in the presence of an owner, a dog is likely to feel safe and comfortable enough to decide to socialize with a stranger.
“While we haven’t tested this particular concept, I think it’s a reasonable conclusion,” says Feuerbach.
The study also examined how shelter dogs and pet dogs interact with two strangers at the same time. All of them favored only one of the strangers, although the experts do not know what the reason for this behavior is.
Another study showed that shelter dogs begin to treat a person differently than a new stranger after just three 10-minute interactions.
Therefore, if you would like to adopt a dog that previously had a different owner, you have nothing to worry about. Although they have experienced a difficult separation from the owner and the loss of their home, they readily form new bonds with people.
“Both separation from the owner and being in a shelter are very stressful situations for dogs, but there is no evidence that dogs miss their old ones when they find a new home,” says Feuerbach.
Do not hesitate if you want to adopt a dog from a shelter. You will definitely become close, and she will perceive you as her master.