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Dog—human bonds could guide development of social robots

In a step towards development of robots that interact meaningfully with humans, a new study from Katie Riddoch of the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and colleagues shares insights on specific dog behaviors that dog owners perceive as important for bonding with their pets. Learn more about these findings below or jump to the full article available in PLOS ONE


Image Caption: Owners identify seven behaviors which they report as important for bonding with their dog: physical touch, consistency, proximity, communication, positivity, attunement, and shared activities. Image Credit: Diego Perez-Lopez, PLOS, CC-BY 4.0 Image URL:

Robots with social behaviors have been proposed as a potential solution to ease people’s loneliness and the challenges of aging. Given the difficulty of creating robots that behave like humans, and the known benefits of the bond between owners and their dogs, some researchers are exploring the possibility of developing dog-inspired robots that can form similar bonds with humans. However, this endeavor requires a deeper understanding of specific dog behaviors that facilitate human-dog bonds.

Study Design and Findings

To gain deeper insight into human—dog bonds, Riddoch and colleagues conducted a survey study of 153 dog owners. They asked the participants open-ended questions about which dog behaviors they felt were especially important in establishing and maintaining their bond with their dog.

Owners described a wide range of key behaviors, such as nudging the owner with a paw or looking back at the owner on walks, which appeared to facilitate such perceptions as the dog being protective or checking in with the owner. In analyzing the responses, the researchers identified 7 core categories of behaviors that owners felt were important: attunement, communication, consistency and predictability, physical affection, positivity and enthusiasm, proximity, and shared activities.

Image Caption 1: The main themes identified through thematic analysis, with percentages corresponding to the proportion of the overall participant sample to reference each theme as being important to building and maintaining human—dog bonds. Photo credit: Original photo by Kyle Mackie on Unsplash, reprinted here under a CC BY license. Image Credit: Riddoch et al., 2022, PLOS ONE, CC-BY 4.0 Image URL:

Future Research

Meanwhile, other research could further investigate the dog—human bond, such as by exploring variations in preferences for dog behaviors among people with different backgrounds and demographics.

The authors add: “Using a qualitative approach enabled us to gain a deep and nuanced understanding of the things people find so endearing about our canine companions. While it won’t be easy to model most of these behaviors on robots, this work offers new and exciting insights for those working to develop pet-like technologies.”

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