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Dog-human bond helps guide social robot programming

Dogs and humans have a unique bond that goes back thousands of years, and humans have spent hundreds of years trying to figure out how this bond developed and why it’s so strong. A study published in PLOS ONE delved into another element of this special bond. The researchers wanted to know the specific behavioral traits dog owners found important in building a bond with their pets. 

The experts wish to use this information in the future to program autonomous dog-like robots to mimic these desired behaviors to help cure loneliness. The researchers surveyed 153 dog owners, asking them open-ended questions about what dog behaviors they thought supported their bond with their pets.

Overall, the owners felt that attunement, communication, consistency, predictability, physical affection, positivity, enthusiasm, proximity, and shared activities were important in building and maintaining social bonds. Some dog behaviors the participants deemed meaningful were nudging and checking in on the owner during walks. 

By including these behaviors in autonomous robot programming, the researchers believe that robots could, one day, provide the same mental health benefits that we currently get from dogs. They hope future studies will explore how people interact with dog-like robots and what kind of effect they have on human mental health.

 Also, since our relationships with dogs are varied, they want to look at how people with different backgrounds and demographics respond to other dog-like behavior in robots. 

“Using a qualitative approach enabled us to gain a deep and nuanced understanding of the things people find so endearing about our canine companions,” wrote the study authors. “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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By Erin Moody , Staff Writer

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