Dogs are beloved pets for many people, providing psychological and physical health benefits. However, dog ownership can also bring conflicts and challenges, particularly when dealing with undesired behaviours such as aggression and excessive barking, which are among the leading reasons people give up their pets.
Renata Roma, a researcher at Brock University, has spent over a decade studying human-animal interactions, particularly how pet owners deal with both positive and challenging dog behaviours. Roma conducted three studies between 2018 and 2023 to explore the factors that impact the relationship between people and their dogs, as well as how to prevent that relationship from deteriorating when facing undesired behaviours.
In her first study, Roma surveyed 401 participants aged between 17 and 25 years old to assess the extent to which personality characteristics and attachment are linked to young adults’ well-being. She found that avoidant and anxious canine behaviour were associated with poorer well-being among young people, highlighting the importance of the emotional connection between dog owners and their pets.
The second study involved 131 participants and focused on how stressful and undesired dog behaviours impact dog owners' emotions and quality of life. As expected, undesired behaviours displayed by dogs were linked to poorer quality of life, particularly in cases of dog aggression and excessive barking.
Finally, Roma conducted interviews with seven dog owners between 17 and 26 years old to explore how young dog owners cope with challenging behaviours in their pets. She found that participants’ coping styles and emotions vary, but overall, they were able to manage challenging and stressful situations with their dogs. Positive reinforcement and working with trainers were the preferred coping styles.
Participants also discussed the importance of physical and emotional connections, as well as synchrony in the relationship shared with their dogs. Dogs that adjust their behaviours to different family members seem crucial to create a positive and harmonic interaction with different people living with the dog.
Roma's research findings indicate that pet owners' connections with their dogs can have ups and downs depending on their psychological state, their dogs' behaviours, and the environment. Understanding the factors that improve the quality of the relationship between people and dogs and the coping strategies used by pet owners can ultimately support the well-being of both the owners and their beloved pets.