Ever since the moment Tyler and I brought Kafka home, I’ve treated him like he was my child, my fur baby. When a noise spooks him, I calm him down with pets. When he wants cuddles, I lay out his favorite blanket next to me. When his digestion hasn’t been great, I make boiled chicken and rice for him. And now, after a study released by the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, I have proof that I’m not really that crazy. There’s a science behind why I treat Kafka like a child; because he treats me like his momma.
It’s called the “secure base effect.” When a child - or dog - interacts with his environment, they use their “parent” as a home base. Having a parent present in the same room makes the child feel more safe, or secure, just as it does for our pooches.
This phenomenon occurs in our house on a pretty regular basis. Thunder or a loud car out on the street? Kafka comes running over to me, especially if I’m sitting down. Sometimes I think it’s a protective instinct, but it’s always seemed to me that it’s also a little about fear.
And then there’s Kafka greeting other dogs out on walks. Kafka can be a reactive dog, as he’s kind of picky about the other canines he associates with. If he doesn’t like what he sees, he’ll stand very still and stare at the stranger. In those cases, I take him across the street. But if he wants to greet a new friend? He often looks up at me, his big tongue hanging out, his stubby tail flicking back and forth, as if he’s asking for permission to say hi. And when I give him that permission, he’ll happily lay down onto the sidewalk and pretend he’s a calm pooch, at least for a few seconds.
Then there’s what happens when either my husband or I leave. Kafka cries, and it, sadly, actually sounds like a baby’s cry (our friends, and this video, can attest). We’re working on that separation anxiety wail, but it’s once again proof to me that, yeah, Kafka loves us because we feed him and give him shelter. But there’s something more to it all too.
I get that it’s different, the relationship between a child and a parent, versus a dog and their owner. (After all, we don’t need a babysitter for him, mostly). But, we are his secure home base, and that’s why, in a room of people, he might greet everyone happily, but he will always check in with us. He’ll even run over to sit on my feet, as if claiming, “she’s mine.”
I suppose it also helps that he knows the words “momma” and “daddy.” “Let’s go find daddy,” I’ll declare if he’s laying in the grass during a walk to the el to meet my husband. And every single time, he’ll jump up in excitement as he looks for his poppa.
Does that make us a bit crazy about our dog? Sure, but we don’t care.
“The relationship between pet owners and dogs turns out to be highly similar to the deep connection between young children and their parents,” the study stated. “One of the things that really surprised us is, that adult dogs behave towards their caregivers like human children do.” But we’re not surprised at all, and most other dog owners would say the same.
Will my relationship to Kafka change once my husband and I have human kids? Most definitely. But he’ll always be our first fur kid, and that’s something I’ll treasure forever and ever.
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