Study: Dogs Sync Behaviors With Humans Without Being Told To

Lori Ennis
by Lori Ennis
Ever wonder if you and your dog are really as ‘in sync’ as you often feel? A group of researchers decided to look into it, and turns out dogs really do look to their humans for the lead.

Dogs just get us sometimes, don’t they? They seem to know when we are sad or happy, or when we just need to snuggle and take some downtime for a bit. We just feel like we are ‘in sync.’

Related: ‘The Animals Among Us’ Details Why Pet Ownership is Fundamental To Humans

Behavioral synchronization is how we build socially cohesive constructs in life. We learn about others, and they us, and we get more and more of that ‘in sync,’ feeling. Social creatures are ones who sync behaviors. Dolphins are found to breathe in synch and people walk or sway in rocking chairs or swing together, often in a noticeably synced pattern.

So a group of researchers wanted to see if dogs also followed synchronization patterns, particularly with different species. They chose 48 dogs and owners to do so. Twenty-four of the dogs were Molossers (bulldogs, mastiffs and St. Bernards) and 24 were shepherds. The dogs were given the opportunity to explore an unfamiliar room with their owners for ten minutes.

The humans were then told to stand in certain places or to walk around the room, but not to communicate or look at their pet. Then, researchers watched the dogs’ reactions. They saw that the dogs, with no communication or even eye contact, still synced their behavior with that of their owner’s. Dogs stopped moving if their owners stood, and if their owners were walking, so were the dogs. According to the data, almost 80% of the time, the dogs were within a meter of their owners, showing they had activity and location synchrony with their owners, despite no direction or command to do so.

The researchers said that when people and dogs walk indoors, they are actually like two people who walk side by side–independently but in sync. It should be noted, though, that may not be quite the case in the dogs’ homes where they are more familiar and feel free to do as they please as their owner does the same. (Though, as I sit on my sofa under a warm blanket, my two fluffers are laying nice and cozily right at my feet, napping in the quiet, so maybe they are synced with me!)

Related: Study: Being Man’s Best Friend May Be Written In Dogs’ Genes

The research team is not sure as to why dogs are in sync with us, though they theorize it could be a way for the dogs to combat anxiety about being in an unfamiliar room with no feedback from the owner. They also believe that if dogs are trained to follow owners on leashes (typically), they simply behaved as they thought they should out of habit.

Then again, maybe it’s just because dogs love us so much (and we them!) that they just need and want to be with us as much as they can. Just saying…that certainly makes the most sense in my book!

Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

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