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      The Importance of the Secure Base Effect for Domestic Dogs – Evidence from a Manipulative Problem-Solving Task

      1 , 2 , * , 1 , 2 , 3 , 2 , 3

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          It has been suggested that dogs display a secure base effect similar to that found in human children (i.e., using the owner as a secure base for interacting with the environment). In children, this effect influences their daily lives and importantly also their performance in cognitive testing. Here, we investigate the importance of the secure base effect for dogs in a problem-solving task.

          Methodology/Principal Findings

          Using a manipulative task, we tested dogs in three conditions, in which we varied the owner's presence and behavior ( Experiment 1: “Absent owner”, “Silent owner”, “Encouraging owner”) and in one additional condition, in which the owner was replaced by an unfamiliar human ( Experiment 2: “Replaced owner”). We found that the dogs' duration of manipulating the apparatus was longer when their owner was present than absent, irrespective of the owner's behavior. The presence of an unfamiliar human however did not increase their manipulation. Furthermore, the reduced manipulation during the absence of the owner was not correlated with the dog's degree of separation distress scored in a preceding attachment experiment.


          Our study is the first to provide evidence for an owner-specific secure base effect in dogs that extends from attachment tests to other areas of dogs' lives and also manifests itself in cognitive testing – thereby confirming the remarkable similarity between the secure base effect in dogs and in human children. These results also have important implications for behavioral testing in dogs, because the presence or absence of the owner during a test situation might substantially influence dogs' motivation and therefore the outcome of the test.

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          Most cited references 9

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          Attachments beyond infancy.

           M D Ainsworth (1989)
          Attachment theory is extended to pertain to developmental changes in the nature of children's attachments to parents and surrogate figures during the years beyond infancy, and to the nature of other affectional bonds throughout the life cycle. Various types of affectional bonds are examined in terms of the behavioral systems characteristic of each and the ways in which these systems interact. Specifically, the following are discussed: (a) the caregiving system that underlies parents' bonds to their children, and a comparison of these bonds with children's attachments to their parents; (b) sexual pair-bonds and their basic components entailing the reproductive, attachment, and caregiving systems; (c) friendships both in childhood and adulthood, the behavioral systems underlying them, and under what circumstances they may become enduring bonds; and (d) kinship bonds (other than those linking parents and their children) and why they may be especially enduring.
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            The Infant's Response to Entrapment between Contradictory Messages in Face-to-Face Interaction

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              • Abstract: not found
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              The many faces of the Still-Face Paradigm: A review and meta-analysis


                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                29 May 2013
                : 8
                : 5
                [1 ]Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
                [2 ]Clever Dog Lab Society, Vienna, Austria
                [3 ]Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Medical University Vienna, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
                University of Arizona, United States of America
                Author notes

                Competing Interests: Altough Royal Canin is supporting the Clever Dog Lab with donations, the authors confirm that this does not alter their adherence to all the PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials, as detailed online in the guide for authors.

                Conceived and designed the experiments: L. Horn FR. Performed the experiments: L. Horn. Analyzed the data: L. Horn. Wrote the paper: L. Horn L. Huber FR.


                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                Page count
                Pages: 10
                This research was supported by the Austrian Academy of Sciences (OEAW: www.oeaw.ac.at; DOC-fFORTE fellowship) and the University of Vienna ( www.univie.ac.at; Forschungsstipendium) with grants to L. Horn and by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF: www.fwf.ac.at; P21418-B17). During this research, F. Range received support from the FWF (P21244-B17). The Clever Dog Lab is financially supported by a private sponsor and by Royal Canin ( www.royal-canin.at). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
                Research Article
                Evolutionary Biology
                Animal Behavior
                Animal Cognition
                Animal Behavior
                Social and Behavioral Sciences
                Developmental Psychology



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