Do dogs just have a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome?
Stockholm Syndrome is a well-documented paradoxical phenomenon in which (human) hostages come to express empathy for their captors, and may even support them after release. There are a variety of psychological explanations for this, most of which revolve around a dependency for the captor that develops in the hostage some time after capture. Most dogs are undoubtedly psychologically dependent on their owners, but there, I think, the similarity ends. First of all, only about a quarter of human hostages exhibit signs of the Syndrome – the rest continue to express the negative feelings toward their captors that the rest of us would think of as logical. Second, being taken hostage is a highly traumatic and stressful experience, and it is thought that any reduction in this acute stress as the hostage situation progresses is an important trigger for the subsequent dependency. If dogs were prone to Stockholm Syndrome, then we might see hyper-dependency developing in dogs that are rehomed when adult – my research has shown that many dogs’ stress hormones go temporarily sky-high during rescue and rehoming. However (and contrary to some reports) there is no evidence that rehomed dogs, once they have settled in their new households, are any more likely to become over-dependent than dogs that stay with the same family all their lives.