Date Published: September 20, 2018
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Ineke R. van Herwijnen, Joanne A. M. van der Borg, Marc Naguib, Bonne Beerda, I. Anna S. Olsson.
Dog ownership satisfaction relates to the quality of life of both owner and dog, and when seriously compromised may even lead to dog abandonment. Knowledge on determinants of dog ownership satisfaction is limited, obstructing solutions for promoting satisfaction, and here we quantified causes making dog owners less than very satisfied with their dog. We focused on the owner perceived relationship with the dog, unwanted dog behaviour, and dog obedience class attendance. The study population included only few seriously dissatisfied dog owners, preventing discrimination of multiple levels below ‘very satisfied’. Consequently, existing relationships in the entire population may have been missed or underestimated and the findings apply specifically to dog owners that are relatively contented with dog ownership. Nine hundred seventy-seven Dutch dog owners completed an online questionnaire and we found the probability of being very satisfied to associate with all three subscales of the Monash Dog Owner Relationship Scale. Most strongly with perceived costs of ownership and less so with shared activities between owner and dog, and perceived emotional closeness to the dog. Aggression and/or disobedience related directly to high perceived ownership costs and to an increased probability of being less than very satisfied. Interaction effects indicated that dog disobedience was less influential on ownership satisfaction at high levels of aggression. Surprisingly, dog ownership satisfaction was unrelated to dog obedience class attendance, raising questions about the effectiveness of these classes in establishing satisfying dog-owner relationships. Training aids used during classes could play a role here, as choke chain use associated with high perceived costs and increased probabilities of being less then very satisfied with dog ownership. Ownership satisfaction in relatively contented dog owners, seems more influenced by unwanted dog behaviour and perceived costs of ownership, than by perceived emotional closeness to the dog, shared activities and dog obedience class attendance.
Dog ownership has the potential to support personal development and well-being by means of the dog fulfilling its owner’s psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness . Dogs, ‘on the other side of the leash’, benefit too, for instance from enjoying interactions with their owner and humans in general. Dogs actively sought human proximity when interacted with by petting  and the presence of a human caretaker lowered stress in dogs facing novel environments . However, there is variation in the nature of owner-dog relationships. For instance, dogs can be seen as loving companions or merely as toys or status enhancers, which influences the extent to which both parties benefit from the relationship . Dog ownership satisfaction reflects several aspects of the owner-dog relationship such as owner-dog attachment strength . When this attachment strength is compromised it increases the risk of the dog being relinquished . Yet it remains unclear what makes dog owners (very) satisfied with their dog and here we quantify the relative importance of obvious determinants of such satisfaction, based on known risk factors for dog abandonment such as unwanted dog behaviour, the owner perceived relationship with the dog and attendance to dog obedience classes [5, 7, 8, 9]. Abandonment as an extreme consequence of ownership dissatisfaction constitutes a serious issue. In the US, millions of animals enter shelters each year and some are even presented there to be euthanized . For the Netherlands, numbers of more than 12,000 dogs entering shelters were projected, on an estimated population of 1.8 million dogs . Reasons for abandoning a dog and being dissatisfied with owning it may be diverse, including an imbalance between how a dog is expected to behave and actually does . Unwanted behaviour, meaning behaviour that is undesired by the dog owner and/or hazardous to others (e.g. biting), is thought to contribute strongly to dog abandonment [12, 13]. Biting people and being perceived as overly active, increased a dog’s risk of abandonment in a comparative study with 2,092 people who relinquished their dog to a shelter and 3,434 people who kept their dog .
Knowledge of what determines dog ownership satisfaction may be utilized for strategies to improve the owner-dog relationship, possibly even lowering abandonment rates of dogs [5, 6]. Here we quantified the effects of several candidate satisfaction determinants from 977 Dutch dog-owner reports. In our typical study sample of mostly satisfied dog owners, the probability of being very satisfied with one’s dog was in part explained by the perceived relationship with the dog, in particular with the perceived costs of owning it, and with the dog’s aggressive behaviour and disobedience. The latter two factors interacted, with high levels of aggression overshadowing the effects of disobedience on ownership satisfaction. Aggression and disobedience, as main effects, associated with high perceived costs only, in line with the strong relationship between perceived costs and dog-ownership satisfaction. Unexpectedly we did not find dog ownership satisfaction to associate with dog obedience class attendance. Our findings come from a study population of highly satisfied dog owners and do not necessary apply to the more serious levels of dissatisfaction. Most likely this typical sample has affected the quantifications of effects, with a bias towards underestimates, and reduced the power to detect relationships due to the underrepresentation of the severe cases of dissatisfaction. An argument for considering the significant findings applicable to the entire population of Dutch dog owners is the correspondence of outcomes with known reasons for owners to abandon their dog. Nevertheless, the present results should be viewed in the specific context of dog owners who were relatively contended with owning their dog.