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Therapy and the Human-Dog Bond

Your Dog Prefers People Who are Kind to You

A group of psychologists in Japan have found that dogs choose not to make contact with people who exhibit behaviors that are unhelpful to their owners.

What does this mean for people who are interested in enhancing their relationships with their canine companions?

I believe that it means several things. Dogs are very aware of interactions between their owner and other people, even when those other people do not interact directly with them (the dogs). Dogs are also able to discriminate between people who have positive (or even neutral) interactions with their owners and those whose interactions are negative–even though the negativity is very subtle. And, dogs care about those interactions between their special person (the “owner”) and other people.

So if your dog shies away from somebody who you had thought was a friend, pay attention!


For those who may be interested in the study itself, here are a few high points:

The unhelpful behavior was quite subtle: refusing to help the dog’s owner who is trying to open a plastic cylinder containing a roll of vinyl tape.

The unhelpful person was not aggressive in any way, and the psychologists carefully controlled for the variables that might have influenced their results. Dogs were of many different breeds, and of different ages. All dogs received food treats after each experiment, no matter whether the target person was helpful or not. The researches also made sure that the dogs were not using other cues, such as the direction in which their owner looked. Hitomi Chijiiwa of Kyoto University was the lead author of this study, which was published in the June 2015 Issue of Animal Behaviour.

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