The study showed that domestic dogs like to perform in front of an audience: they play with each other much more often and more actively if the owner is present.
American zoopsychologists conducted a study to understand how the presence of a human affects the behavior of dogs, in particular the games of animals living with each other, reports phys.org. Participants in the experiment were 10 pairs of domestic dogs who lived together for at least six months. The researchers videotaped them in three situations: when the owner was absent; when the owner was present but ignored them; and when the owner was present and showered them with praise and affection.
It turned out that when the owner paid attention to the games, the dogs became much more lively: they played more often and did so more actively – there were more chases, scuffles, gentle biting, etc. As the authors of the study wrote, “astonishingly, dogs who are able to play with each other whenever they want are much more likely to get up off their butts and start playing if just a human pays attention to them.”
Why does this happen? Researchers have several theories. One is that dogs act like children when they show their parents their abilities: praise from adults is a reward for both. Another version is that dogs know from past experience that games lead to prizes. For example, the owner may also join them or take them out for a walk. It’s also possible that the presence of a human instills a sense of security in animals: although dogs use play to strengthen bonds, sometimes such fun turns into aggression, and having a human around is insurance against a fight. Or maybe the proximity of an owner is a trigger for the love hormone oxytocin, which leads to a more positive emotional state that eventually translates into play.
The authors of the paper, published in the journal Animal Cognition, admit that their study raises more questions than it answers.