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  • Dodman, Nicholas (Tufts University)
  • Serpell, James (University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine)
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  • Abstract

    Behavioral problems are a major source of poor welfare and premature mortality in companion dogs. Previous studies have demonstrated associations between owners’ personality and psychological status and the prevalence and/or severity of their dogs’ behavior problems. However, the mechanisms responsible for these associations are currently unknown. Other studies have detected links between the tendency of dogs to display behavior problems and their owners’ use of aversive or confrontational training methods. This raises the possibility that the effects of owner personality and psychological status on dog behavior are mediated via their influence on the owner’s choice of training methods. We investigated this hypothesis in a self-selected, convenience sample of 1564 current dog owners using an online battery of questionnaires designed to measure, respectively, owner personality, depression, emotion regulation, use of aversive/confrontational training methods, and owner-reported dog behavior. Multivariate linear and logistic regression analyses identified modest, positive associations between owners’ use of aversive/confrontational training methods and the prevalence/severity of the following dog behavior problems: owner-directed aggression, stranger-directed aggression, separation problems, chasing, persistent barking, and house-soiling (urination and defecation when left alone). The regression models also detected modest associations between owners’ low scores on four of the ‘Big Five’ personality dimensions (Agreeableness, Emotional Stability, Extraversion & Conscientiousness) and their dogs’ tendency to display higher rates of owner-directed aggression, stranger-directed fear, and/or urination when left alone. The study found only weak evidence to support the hypothesis that these relationships between owner personality and dog behavior were mediated via the owners’ use of punitive training methods, but it did detect a more than five-fold increase in the use of aversive/confrontational training techniques among men with moderate depression. Further research is needed to clarify the causal relationship between owner personality and psychological status and the behavioral problems of companion dogs.

Update Metadata: 2019-05-22 | Issue Number: 2 | Registration Date: 2017-11-30

Dodman, Nicholas; Serpell, James (2017): DodmanSerpellStudy-2017. Version: 1. ICPSR - Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research. Dataset.