The Kennel Club – Dogs and Emotional Dispositions

It is finally time for yet another study on the Human-Dog bond! We are looking for Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme Bronze instructor, and dog owners about to start a GCDS Bronze class with your dog. If you fall into any of these two groups, we would love if you would assist us in a study we are currently running.

First step is to download and read through the information about the study here:

Information for Dog Trainers and Owners – Dogs of Edinburgh 2017

Once you are happy with the information given, we would appreciate if you would fill in the first part of our survey (the second part will be emailed to you after 2 months).

If you are a KC GCDS instructor, please fill in this survey:

The survey is now closed.

If you are a dog owner on a waiting list for a KC GCDS Bronze class, or about to your Bronze class, please fill in this survey:

The survey is now closed.

Please note that any identifying information is entirely confidential and will only be used to pair the first and the second part of the survey with each other. All results from the survey will be anonymous.


If you have any questions, please contact us here:

Linnea Lyckberg (researcher)                     l.lyckberg@gmail.com

Elizabeth Austin (supervisor)                     Elizabeth.Austin@ed.ac.uk

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Dogs and Emotional Disposition

It is finally time for yet another study on the Human-Dog Bond! We are looking for adults (>18 years old) who have never owned a dog, as well as dog trainers/behaviourists.

The surveys are composed out of questionnaires on personality and emotional disposition, and a task on recognising emotions in humans and dogs. For the dog trainers/behaviourists and owners you will also be asked questions about your relationship and interactions with your dog. Two months after you fill in the first survey you will receive an email with a link to a second survey. It is important for the study that you fill in both surveys.
To read more about the study, download our information sheet here.

If you have never owned a dog, we would love if you filled in this 15 minute survey.

The survey is now closed.

If you have been working as a dog trainer or behaviourist full time for at least 1 year, please fill in this survey. Your current dog must be over 1 year old, and have lived with you for at least 6 months. The survey will take roughly 35 minutes.

The survey is now closed.

Thank you in advance for your participation and support, we really appreciate it!

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The Strange Situation Test

Between April and June we have been running an experiment at the Royal Dick Veterinary Hospital, measuring dogs’ attachment to their owners using a version of Ainsworth’s Strange Situation Test. The experiments were part of a larger study looking at personality, interactions and mutual attachment.

First of all, I want to thank everyone who took their time to share our study, fill in our online survey and attend the experiment. We really appreciate your help. Without you, this project would not be possible. We managed to run 68 experiments, and had 690 people filling it in online!

The experiment we ran is based on a test developed by Mary Ainsworth in the 1970s to study toddlers’ attachment to their mothers. It has since then been adapted to measure dogs’ attachment to their owners. The test consists of seven episodes during which the dog’s behaviour is recorded in the absence and presence of the owner and a stranger.

The experiment took place in a veterinary consultation room that contained two chairs, a water bowl, and a couple of toys. The owner and stranger (played by our assistant Miguel) were instructed to ignore the dog most of the time, and only to briefly interact with it if it wanted attention. This was to record the dog’s behaviour with little influence from the humans. The structure of the experiment was the following:

Episode I: Owner and dog enter the room. (3min)

Episode II: Stranger enters the room and sits quietly (1min). Stranger talks to owner (1min). Stranger plays with dog (1min).

Episode III: Owner leaves the room. Stranger attempts to play with the dog again. (3min) – First Separation

Episode IV: Owner enters the room, and stranger leaves the room. (3min) – First reunion.

Episode V: Owner leaves the room, dog is alone. (3min) – Second separation.

Episode VI: Stranger enters the room. (3min)

Episode VII: Owner enters the room, stranger leaves the room. (3min) – Second reunion

Attachment has previously been described as indicated by a preference for attachment figure (the dog owner or the mother) to the stranger, attempts to maintain contact and seek proximity to the person, as well as having secure base effects.

Attachment behaviour is usually triggered by external threat or danger, or internal states like hunger or pain. It is often expressed through attempts to promote and restore proximity or contact with the attachment figure. This often results in distress when separated from the attachment figure, and greeting upon reunion. If the dog or child would get anxious due to the presence of the stranger, it might also approach the dog owner or mother for comfort or reassurance.

The attachment figure can also act as a secure base, meaning that the dog or child would feel more comfortable to explore the room, engage with the stranger, and play when the owner or mother was present than when the owner was absent.

For children, four types of attachment have been identified. It is not yet known if the same categories apply to dogs. First is secure attachment which is characterised by more exploration when the mother is present, distress when separated, but can be comforted by the stranger. Second is insecure avoidant attachment, characterized by little exploration, little distress when left, no preference over the mother or stranger, and avoiding the mother upon her return. Third is insecure ambivalent attachment, again characterized by little exploration, but distressed when left, wary of stranger, and ambivalent towards the mother on return. Finally we have insecure disorganized attachment characterized by little exploration, freezing and stereotyped movements upon reunion, as well as contradictory behaviours.

Some of the behaviours we looking at in dogs are exploration, independent play, social play (with owner or stranger), proximity, orientation and contact with the owner and the stranger, movement, different postures (stand, sit, down), and vocalisations. We will also compare the behaviours during the different episodes. The dog’s response to the return of the owner is also measured in intensity, and duration, with an interest in how long it takes for the dog to recover from the separation.

The next step for us is to code all of the video material by measuring the duration or frequency of a number of behaviours, and then analyse it to see how it relates to other variables like behaviour problems, personality, interactions, and the owner’s attachment to the dog. The whole analysis will take a few months, but I am really excited to find out what the results will be like! If you have signed up for the email list, we will send you the results once they are ready. If not, just subscribe to our blog and they will be sent directly to you.

We will be running a second observational experiment in the spring of 2016. If you are interested in taking part, send me an email at l.lyckberg@gmail.com, and I will add you to our email list.

Current Study

The Study

Welcome to Dogs of Edinburgh and thank you for your interest in our research! We are currently running an Edinburgh-based experiment on the Human-Dog Bond and would love if you could take part! The study will explore the relationship between personality, interactions and mutual attachment. If you have several dogs, choose the dog you feel the closest to. First of all, we need you to fill in an online survey which takes about 30 minutes. At the end of the survey you will be provided a link to a calendar to book in a slot to participate in the experiment. The experiment will take place at the Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies, and takes 45 minutes. During the experiment we will film you, your dog and one of our research assistants as you interact with the dog. To participate, your dog must have lived with you for at least 6 months and be over 1 year old. The dog must also be social and non-aggressive with people. We will be running the experiment until the end of June, so if you are busy now, book in a slot in a few weeks time.

To get started, fill in our survey here!

Our study is now done! Subscribe to our page to get updates on the results.

About

The positive effects of interacting with dogs on human mental and physical health have been extensively documented. Human companionship for dogs can reduce the impact of novelty and threat and have a positive effect on the dog’s physical health. However, these mutual health benefits depend on positive social interactions and the success of the relationship. As dog owners comprise a large part of the population of the Western world, it is in the interest of these citizens and their dogs to help them form a mutually successful bond. Large numbers of dogs are today relinquished to shelters. One of the most common reasons for relinquishment is behaviour problems. However, some researchers have suggested that this depends on owner commitment. That is, owners of dogs with behaviour problems are less likely to give them up if they are more attached to their dogs. By ensuring, or increasing, mutual attachment between dog owners and their dogs, dog relinquishment and return of dogs to shelters may diminish. This study will examine what personality combinations and interactions influence the development of a mutual bond and prevent dog behaviour problems. A personality match-making model could be applied by breeders to prevent relinquishment through a successful bond, and optimise adoption processes at shelters. Finding what type and frequency of interactions is associated with stronger mutual attachment, and low occurrence of behaviour problems, may also help breeders, rescue organisations and other professionals to give dog owners activity recommendations and guidelines. These models could ensure that human-dog dyads can enjoy the physical and psychological benefits of a successful bond, enhancing their wellbeing, and consequentially, reducing the number of dogs euthanised in shelters.

Predicting a Mutual Human-Dog Bond

Although interactions with dogs may have a positive effect on human mental and physical health, this effect depends on the success of the relationship. Similar to human relationships, the positive aspects of the relationship must outweigh the negative aspects. If the bond is unsuccessful, it may lead to the dog being relinquished to a shelter.

Almost half of the households in the US, and a quarter of the households in the UK have at least one dog. To ensure that dog owners and their dogs can enjoy the mutual health benefits, it is necessary to examine what factors influence the development of a successful bond. In this study, we examined the effect of owner personality, dog-owner interactions, behaviour problems, on the owner’s bond to the dog.

Most research has focused on trying to predict the factors affecting either the human’s or the dog’s attachment, but rarely taken into account what combinations result in mutual attachment. Due to the time restraints of this project, we had to exclude measuring the dog’s personality and the dog’s attachment to the owner, but intend to do so in the future.

Personality is an important variable for relationship satisfaction in human couples. Personality in humans is usually measured through five personality traits: Conscientiousness (self-efficacy, orderliness, achievement-striving), Neuroticism (anxiety, anger, depression), Extraversion (assertiveness, cheerfulness, activity level), Agreeableness (trust, cooperation, sympathy), and Openness/Imagination (aesthetics, fantasy, ideas). Commonly, low Neuroticism, high Extraversion, and high Agreeableness are associated with high relationship satisfaction.

In the current study, we found that Neuroticism was associated with perceiving the dog as a burden and having lower relationship satisfaction, but at the same time, being more likely to see the dog as a source of emotional support (see the post on the new scale for sub-categories). Similar to studies on human relationships, we found that that owner’s with high Agreeableness were more attached to their dogs. However, unlike these findings, there was no significant association with Extraversion. Instead, the attachment to the dog was associated with the owner’s level of Conscientiousness.

Participating in recreational activities has shown to increase relationship quality for human couples. Similarly, engagement and interaction with the dog is associated with the dog’s attachment to the owner, reduces behaviour problems, and increases welfare.

In the current study, we found that the more the owner interacted with the dog, the more attached they were. However, when examining the different kinds of interactions, walking and training your dog was not significantly related to the bond, but playing, petting, taking your dog to new places, and grooming was. This might suggest that owners who are already attached to their dogs are more likely to interact with them, rather than the other way around.

Unexpectedly, the total number of interactions was not significantly related to the dog’s behaviour problems. When looking at the different kinds of interactions, owners of dogs with behaviour problems played less with their dogs and trained them more. It is also possible that this sample was biased. Owners who respond to research surveys about their dogs may be interested in dog behaviour or training, and might be less likely to over- or under-stimulate their dogs, making interactions a less likely factor for behaviour problems.

As seen in previous research, we also found that the owner’s attachment to the dog decreased with the number of behaviour problems. Specifically, owners of dogs with behaviour problems had lower relationship satisfaction, and perceived the dog as more of a burden.

Owner characteristics also had an effect on interaction styles. Owners with higher Agreeableness walked their dog more, those with higher Imagination played more, and owners with higher Use of Emotions (an EI subscale) took their dogs to new places and played more often.

In order to help dog owners and their dogs enjoy the mutual positive effect of physical and mental health, it is necessary to find what factors predict a strong mutual bond. Constructing a personality matchmaking model, and recommendations for frequency and type of interactions, for a successful human-dog relationship, would benefit adoption processes in shelters, and if applied by dog owners, it may prevent animals from being relinquished due to an unsuccessful bond.

 

This autumn we will continue our research on the human-dog bond and will be running experiments in Edinburgh on mutual attachment between owners and their dogs. If you are interested in participating, please contact Linnea Lyckberg (l.lyckberg@gmail.com).

 

Key References:

Cavanaugh, L. A., Leonard, H. A., & Scammon, D. L. (2008). A tail of two personalities: How canine companions shape relationships and well-being. Journal of Business Research, 61, 469-479.

Clark, G. I., & Boyer, W. N. (1993). The effects of dog obedience training and behavioural counselling upon the human-canine relationship. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 37, 147-159.

Curb, L. A., Abramson, C. I., Grice, J. W., & Kennison, S. M. (2013). The relationship between personality match and pet satisfaction among dog owners. Anthrozoös, 26(3), 395–404.

Marston, L. C., & Bennett, P. C. (2003). Reforging the bond – towards successful canine adoption, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 83, 227–245.

Meyer, I., & Forkman, B. (2014). Dog and owner characteristics affecting the dog- owner Relationship, Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 9(4), 143–150.

Rehn, T., Lindholm, U., Keeling, L., & Forkman, B. (2014). I like my dog, does my dog like me?. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 150, 65–73.

Strong, G., & Aron, A. (2006). The effect of shared participation in novel and challenging activities on experienced relationship quality. In: Vohs, K. D., Finkel, E. J. (Eds.) Self and relationships: connecting intrapersonal and interpersonal processes. New York: Guilford Press, 342–59.

White, J. K., Hendrick, S. S., & Hendrick, C. (2004). Big five personality variables and relationship constructs. Personality and Individual Differences, 37, 1519– 30.

Emotional Intelligence and Dog Training – What Dogs Can Teach Us

The benefits of interacting with animals for mental and physical health were first noted in 1792. Since the 1960’s, animals have more frequently been used to help alleviate symptoms from a variety of conditions. Even short encounters with animals have shown to provide a relief from pain, anxiety and depression, and increase the production of a variety of hormones associated with relaxation and immune system function. Recently, two studies conducted at the Psychology department of the University of Vienna found that interactions with dogs could teach people to better recognise emotions in themselves and other humans.

During the first study, the participants, both adults and children got to interact with a therapy dog for one hour every week for three months. After the animal assisted therapy, the participants were better at recognising human emotions. In the second study, the participants, children aged 5 to 7, were better at regulating their own emotions, recognising emotions in others, and were more empathetic.

Most humans, even with no or little experience of dogs, have shown to be able to differentiate between emotions in dogs’ vocalizations and facial expressions. It has not yet been established whether this understanding is due to our long cohabitation or to the facial similarities of some mammals. According to the above studies, there seems to be a kind of cross-species generalization between humans and dogs. As we get better at reading dogs’ signals and body language, we may become better at recognizing emotions in other people.

In the current study, I wanted to explore whether dog owners and dog trainers were better at recognising emotions in humans than a general sample of the population. To test this, I used an Emotional Intelligence scale. Emotional Intelligence (EI) can be divided into four sub-categories as the abilities to recognise, regulate, use, and understand emotions. Recognizing emotions in others and the ability to express emotions is necessary for communication and social interactions. For example, misunderstanding the emotion of another human, such as anger or sadness, could cause you to respond inappropriately. Being able to regulate one’s own emotions is crucial for psychological well-being. Ignoring negative emotions, or not being able to replace them with positive emotions, can be detrimental to physical health.

Dog owners had higher EI than the group from the general population, which indicates that any interactions with dogs may increase EI. Dog trainers and dog walkers had higher EI than both dog owners and the general population sample, even when alternative explanations such as age and gender were tested for. To explore what type of interactions may increase EI, the dog trainer and walker group was divided into four subgroups: dog walkers, participants who offered both dog walking and training, dog trainers who focused on behaviour problems, and dog trainers who focused on training for competitions. Between these groups, dog trainers who focused on behaviour problems had the highest EI.

Some previous research has discussed the effect of the owner’s stress on dog behaviour problems. For example, in the presence of a known trigger, the owner may start breathing faster, putting tension on the leash, and raising his or her voice, which can intensify the dog’s behaviour. There is also evidence that dogs are sensitive to human emotional states. Some dogs are so in tune with their owner that their bodies have synchronized release of stress hormones. If a member of the family is stressed, dogs may be affected through physical symptoms such as diarrhoea, gastric upset or epileptic seizures. Based on this, some have argued that it is necessary for veterinary behaviourists to help both the dog and the owner to replace their fear or frustration with a more positive emotion. If owners to some extent need to become better at recognizing and regulating their own emotions when helping their dog through its behaviour problems, it is possible that dog trainers who work with dogs with behaviour problem need similar skills.

However, due to the nature of the analysis in our study, the direction of the relationship between EI and dog behaviour trainers cannot be known. This means that it is possible that trainers with high EI tend to focus on behaviour problems, rather than the training causing the increased EI. Future studies could look at the EI of dog owners before and after going through different behaviour modification programs with their dogs. For these studies we will need dog trainers who are willing to ask their clients to fill in our survey before and after a number of training sessions. If you are a dog trainer who would be interested in this, please contact Linnea Lyckberg (l.lyckberg@gmail.com) for more information!

The results of the current study may help pin point what type of interactions with dogs might increase EI. This could help us set up courses for dog owners, or programs to be used during Animal Assisted therapy, which could help people become better at recognising, regulating, using, and understanding emotions, and thereby improving their physical and psychological well-being.

 

Key References:

Cain, A.O. (1983). A study of pets in the family. In: Katcher, A.H., Beck, A.M. (Eds.), Campo, R. A., Uchino, B. N., Holt-Lunstad, J., Vaughn, A., Reblin, M., & Smith, T. W. (2009). The assessment of positivity and negativity in social support networks: The Social Relationships Index. Journal of Community Psychology, 37, 471-486.

Canino, J., Shaw, J., & Beck, A. M. (2007). A look at the role of marriage and family therapy skills within the context of animal behavior therapy. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 2, 15-22.

Jones, A.C., & Josephs, R.A. (2006). Interspecies hormonal interactions between man and the domestic dog (Canis familiaris). Hormones and Behaviour, 50, 393-400.

Morisaki, A., Takaoka, A., & Fujita, K. (2009). Are dogs sensitive to the emotional state of humans? Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 4(49).

O’Farrell, V. (1995). The effect of owner attitudes on behavior. In: Serpell, J.A. (Ed.), The domestic dog: Its evolution, behaviour and interactions with people. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 153–160.

Stetina, B. U., Turner, K., Burger, E., Glenk, L. M., McElheney, J. C., Handlos, U., & Kothgassner, O. D. (2011). Learning emotion recognition from canines? Two for the road. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 6, 108-114.

Schirmer, A., Shan Seow, C., Penney, T. B. (2013). Humans process dog and human facial affect in similar ways. PLOS One, 8(9).

Turner, K., Stetina, B., Burger, E., Lederman Maman, T., Handlos, U., & Kryspin-Exner, I. (2009). Enhancing emotion regulation and recognition among first graders through animal-assisted group training. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, 4, 93-94.

Measuring Owners’ Bond to Their Dogs

Our first study was conducted through online surveys in June and July 2014. 1291 dog owners and 213 dog trainers or walkers took part in the study. I want to thank all people who shared and filled in the survey! Without you, this study would not have been possible. I was really moved by some of the stories you shared with me, and grateful for all the feedback you gave me.

One of the aims of the study was to create a new questionnaire for measuring dog owners’ bond to their dogs. We used questions (items) from nine different questionnaires (scales) measuring owners’ attachment, bond, relationship satisfaction, and commitment to their pets. From the beginning, we had 158 items, whereof 71 remained after deleting duplicates and irrelevant ones.

The purpose of our analysis was thus to further reduce the number of items to make the scale easier to fill in for dog owners, and to look at what structures of the bond the scale measured.

Through our analysis, the number of items was reduced to 53, and we found four sub-structures which would most appropriately be labelled as Emotional Support, Relationship Satisfaction, Enjoyment and Burden.

However, our analysis only constituted the first part out of two. Our future studies will use the reduced scale, containing 53 items, to see if the same sub-structures emerge in other groups of dog owners and dog trainers, and possibly, to make the scale even shorter.