The dog (Canis familiaris) as part of the family: a pilot study on the analysis of dog bond to all the owners.
The aim of the current study was to evaluate whether dogs living in multi-member families show a stronger bond towards a specific person, and, if it is the case, which characteristics of the owner or of their relationship may lead to such preference.
Eleven dogs were tested using a modified version of Ainsworth Strange Situation Test where all the family members (five 2-member, two 2-member, and four 4-member families) were contemporaneously present. The duration of 19 non-social (proximity to door/chair, behaviours towards door/chair/shoe, oriented to door, exploration, locomotion, passive behaviour, individual play, vocalisations, and whining) and social (attention seeking, physical contact, following, proximity, approach, and visual orientation) dog behaviours was measured. The latter were assessed towards each participant. A questionnaire, including the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale, was used to gather information on the relationship between people and the tested dog.
The analysis of data revealed that most dogs (72.7%) living in a multi-member family show a stronger bond to a specific member. Owners usually (75.0%) were able to identify the person the dog was more bonded to. It was not found a correlation between the level of attachment of a specific owner to the dog and the bond of this dog to that specific owner (57.12 ± 15.42 versus 58.00 ± 18.95; F = 0.00; p = 0.955). Among dogs who showed a preference, the majority (75.0%) preferred people who managed the dogs almost totally by themselves; for the remaining two, the preferred person was the one within the family who dealt with walking and food or walking and play. Therefore, walking the dog seems to increase the likelihood of establishing a strong bond with the dog.