Dog—human bonds could guide development of social robots

Published: 29 September 2022

A new study identifies seven dog behaviors seen as important for bonding with your dog.

A new study identifies seven dog behaviors seen as important for bonding with your dog.

In a step towards development of robots that interact meaningfully with humans,
a new study - led by the University of Glasgow and published in PLOS ONE - highlights specific dog behaviors that dog owners perceive as important for bonding with their pets. 

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.

To gain deeper insight into human—dog bonds, researcher Katie Riddoch and colleagues from the University's School of Psychology and Neuroscience, 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 seven core categories of behaviors that owners felt were important: attunement, communication, consistency and predictability, physical affection, positivity and enthusiasm, proximity, and shared activities.

In the study, the researchers - led by Prof Emily Cross, Professor of Social Robotics - suggest that incorporating these types of behaviors into robotic systems could aid development of robots that provide the same fulfilment and mental health benefits for people as bonding with a pet dog. The next step, they say, will be to conduct experiments in which people interact with robotic dogs programmed to behave like real dogs.

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.

Prof Emily Cross said: “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.”

The study was funded bythe European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon2020 research and innovation programme, the Leverhulme Trust and an Industrial Strategy PhD studentship from the Economic and Social Research Council. 

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First published: 29 September 2022