At the beginning of each trial, the dog was released by the experimenter from the release point, which was 2.5 m away from the toy. During each trial the experimenter stood on the right side of door 1 – timing the trial with a clock on the opposite wall. The owner either sat on the designated chair on the left side of door 1 or was in the adjacent room.
Dogs were coded for time spent manipulating the toy (though not for successfully prizing the food out of it--this wasn’t a test for skill or intelligence) and time spent in proximity to either owner or experimenter (marked as having its head and at least one paw within the dotted lines).
Here were the results:
It’s not surprising that the dogs worked on the toy puzzles longer when their owners were actively encouraging them to do so. But notice that the difference between the ‘silent’ and ‘encouraging’ owners wasn’t nearly as great as the differences between those conditions and the ones with the absent owners. Dogs also spent far more time close to the experimenter (who completely ignored the dogs and only watched the clock) when their owners were absent.
This seems like a clear indication that dogs are using their owners as secure bases for exploration. Except for one thing. Look what happens when the researchers substituted a blind-folded stranger (replaced owner) for the owner.
As you can see, when a silent stranger took the owners’ place in the experiment, the dogs spent an intermediate amount of time manipulating the toy. Thus, the dogs showed a range of behaviors, displaying the least confidence when no one was in the chair and the most confidence when their own owners were encouraging them to keep interacting with the toy.
This could mean that any human can more or less serve as a secure base. Or it could be that dogs don’t use secure bases in the same way that children do. In any case, the authors suggest that, going forward, other canine researchers recognize that their test subjects might be affected by the presence or absence of their owners.