People often refer to their pets as their “furbabies”. A new study emerged this past Wednesday which showed that while the label may be appropriate for describing canine-human relationships, it isn’t an accurate label for feline-human relations.
The study was conducted by Daniel Mills and a team of researchers from the University of Lincoln in England. Mills and his colleague, Alice Potter, study companion animals in England. They work at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Mills is also a veterinary behavioral medicine researcher and began his look into this study by going back to the 1970’s.
Human psychologist, Mary Ainsworth, is most well-known for her research test called the Strange Situation. The test was conducted in the 70’s to explore the nature of children’s attachment to their primary caregiver.
For the Strange Situation test, researchers put children in a room with their parent and then asked the parent to leave. While the parent was absent, a stranger arrived and attempted to interact with the child. Then the parent would return and researchers would examine the child’s reaction to their parents return.
Different types of “attachment” were classed based on how the children responded to the changes of circumstance (parents leaving, stranger arriving, parents returning). A “securely attached” child would play happily in the presence of their parent, show concern when their parents weren’t present and then display happiness upon their return. Their parents acted as a “safe base” which would allow them the confidence and security to explore their surroundings comfortably.
In 2013 there was a study published in the PLOSONE journal about dogs “attachment” to owners. It showed that the canine-human relationships shared similarities with “securely attached” human babies and their parents.
To test cats attachment to their owners, they were put into a comparable situation to the Strange Situation test. Researchers ensured that the cats chosen for the study were reportedly “particularly attached” to their owners. However, they showed no obvious signs of attachment to their owners during the test.
These results are not to say that dogs have better or closer relationships with their owners than cats do. Mills clarified:
“This is not about whether cats love their owners”.
It is merely about the fact that cat’s don’t rely on their owners to give them safety, security and confidence. Mills explained that “cats are naturally very independent hunters” so “why should cats depend on people for safety and security”? Dogs, however, are much more social animals who, in the wild, do hunt in packs and are used to having some help with meeting their needs.
The independent disposition of cats, the loyal/reliant nature of dogs and the results of this study indicate a few things. It shows that the root of love cats have for their owners isn’t dependence. The root of dog’s love for their owners is, at least in part, the feeling of being a part of a family. Dogs have