Dog-human bonds could guide the development of social robots


In a step towards developing robots that interact meaningfully with humans, a new study by Katie Riddoch of the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and her colleagues shares insights into specific dog behaviors that owners of dogs perceive as important to bond with their pets. Read more about these results below or skip to complete article available in PLOS ONE.


Legend: Owners identify seven behaviors they consider important for bonding with their dog: physical touch, consistency, closeness, communication, positivity, attunement, and shared activity.. Image credit: Diego Perez-Lopez, PLOS, CC BY 4.0 Image URL:

Robots with social behaviors have been proposed as a potential solution to alleviate people’s loneliness and the challenges of aging. Given the difficulty of creating robots that behave like humans and the known benefits of bonding 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 bonding.

Study design and results

To better understand human-dog bonds, Riddoch and his colleagues conducted a survey of 153 dog owners. They asked participants open-ended questions about canine behaviors that they felt were particularly important in establishing and maintaining their bond with their dog.

Owners described a wide range of key behaviors, such as pawing at the owner or staring at the owner on walks, that seemed to facilitate perceptions such as the dog being protective or checking in with the owner. Analyzing the responses, the researchers identified 7 main categories of behaviors that owners thought were important: Attunement, Communication, Consistency and Predictability, Physical Affection, Positivity and Enthusiasm, Closeness, and Shared Activities.

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

Future research

Meanwhile, further research could dig deeper into the dog-human bond, such as exploring variations in preferences for canine behaviors among people of different backgrounds and demographics.

The authors add, “Using a qualitative approach allowed us to gain a deep and nuanced understanding of what people find so endearing about our canine companions. While it’s not easy to model most of these behaviors on robots, this work offers exciting new insights for those working on developing pet-like technologies. »


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