Beware of “Scientific” Studies – by Jan Fennell

Why do dogs cry when their owners come home?

Researchers in Japan asked this question and went on to test 22 dogs who produced tears when their owners returned home after they had been separated for various lengths of time.

The researchers concluded that the reason dogs become so hysterical is to be able to produce the tears that form a bond with their human companions.

This “study” actually made me laugh out loud as, 22 dogs is nowhere near a large enough sample of the canine world to produce a scientific, accurate and reliable result. The study is also based on the understanding that all dogs are hysterical when their human companions return home; that is simply not the case.

This study concluded that hysterical behaviour is both natural, and indeed, necessary. However, such behaviour is witnessed nowhere in the natural world, by that I mean a world without any human interference. This study also fell into the trap of many such studies; they had already decided what they expected to find and made the results fit the theory. They even went so far as to placing swabs dosed with oxytocin under the eyes of the dogs to test the “emotions” involved in the bonding process, assuming that the resulting tears enabled the bonding process to happen between the dogs and their owners, proving their theory.

Let us look at the failings in this type of research. The researchers, as with researchers in similar “studies”, are looking at the symptom and not the cause of the behaviour. They then set out to justify any preconceived theories they may have. In this case their theory was just what dog owners want to hear, their dogs love them so intensely that they cry tears of joy when the owner returns home. Of course, loving dog owners will applaud this type of research.

Why do I insist that this approach can never provide the truth, and only cause more confusion to owners and misery to dogs? Let us start with the traditional mistaken premise that a dog will naturally become hysterical when they reunite with their owners, because they are delighted to see that “mummy/daddy” has come home.

This is the perfect time to ask what happens with other family members in the same situation. If the theory is that the dog sees the human as its “parents”, then it has to follow that as “mummy” or “daddy” come through the door, after separation, the children must react in the same way and rush up to the parent, leaping all over them, crying with delight. This is something that I have never seen or experienced, in fact quite the opposite as the children in most families usually continue to watch the television, play on their computer, or any other activity that they are involved in, rarely turning their head to acknowledge the safe return of their precious parent. The reason for this is that they are not responsible for their parent and just assume their safe return.

When we look at this from my own experience and studies, we can see that it is the fact that the dog perceives itself to be the responsible one, the “parent” if you will, and the humans are those that they are responsible for. This then is the real cause of the hysteria and makes more sense when we look at this in relation to parents and their children. If ever a parent has no knowledge of where their child is, then that loving parent will become frantic with worry, fearing that their child is lost, never to be seen again. When the missing child returns home the parent will be ecstatic, taking their child into their arms, hugging the child through their tears, because the parent has suffered severe separation anxiety and would probably be advised to seek counselling to overcome their unbearable trauma.

The poor dog has to endure this sense of loss repeatedly day after day, with no understanding, let alone any help to cope with the misery it is experiencing.

The saddest fact for me is that a dog is its own worst enemy here because the hysterical greetings that they display, as a result of their relief of finding their charge again, many people find so wonderful and endearing.

One of the hardest things that owners have to come to terms with, when I or my fellow qualified Dog Listeners, try to help them, is the fact that their dogs are not missing their “carers” but rather, they have been desperately missing those in their care.

I know that my studies and findings are rejected by many as outdated, just as with others that have gone before and challenged the status quo, but I will never stop trying to educate dog owners, in the hope that one day more people will start to think differently and join those of us who look to address the root cause of problem behaviour, whilst still have to watch ‘experts’ explain symptoms of dog behaviour, without understanding the causes.

Of course, researchers who tell dog owners what they want to hear will still be given credence, even though they are completely wrong.  Consequently, loving dog owners will continue to inadvertently cause misery to the dogs that they profess to love so much.

If you see a study that overturns everything that has gone before, and tells you what you want to hear, please look carefully into that study, and do not take it at face value.


Jan Fennell.

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