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Factors that affect the human-companion animal bond relationship

Reevy MR, Delgado MM. Are Emotionally Attached Companion Animal Caregivers Conscientious and Neurotic? Factors That Affect the Human–Companion Animal Relationship. J Appl Anim Welf Sci.2015;18(3):239-58.

Few studies have examined how personality traits may be related to the amounts and types of attachments humans have toward companion animals (pets). In this study, 1,098 companion animal guardians (owners) completed a survey. Each participant chose whether he or she identified as a Cat Person, Dog Person, Both, or Neither. Results indicated that neuroticism, conscientiousness, choosing a dog as a favorite pet, and identifying as a Cat Person, Dog Person, or Both predicted affection for a pet. Conscientiousness, extraversion, and openness decreased avoidant attachment to pets, and neuroticism increased anxious attachment to pets.

Both dogs and cats could benefit from pet owners who are conscientious, and there may be some benefits of neuroticism in pet owners. The findings of this study will advance understanding of the human–animal bond. As this understanding increases ,measurements of human attachment and personality may be useful for the development of tools that could assist shelter employees and veterinarians in counseling people about pet ownership.

This study demonstrates that personality traits (particularly neuroticism and conscientiousness) and identification as a Cat Person, Dog Person, or Both are potentially important to the pet–human relationship. It also suggests that identifying as Neither a cat person nor a dog person or having a pet who is not a cat or dog may be associated with a more avoidant, less affectionate relationship. This finding indicates that further study is needed to explore why some pet owners consistently have more affectionate relationships with particular types of pets. For example, dogs receive more medical care than cats (AVMA, 2012), owners spend more money on their pet dogs than on cats (American Pet Products Association, 2014), and fewer cats than dogs are adopted from animal shelters. Cats are also less likely to be reclaimed by their owners when they are turned into animal shelters. All of these findings suggest that dogs may have benefits over cats, but it is not clear if this is due to characteristics of the pets, the owners, or both.

In conclusion, a better understanding of people’s characteristics such as personality traits, their attachment styles, self-identification as animal people, and general affection for pets may be helpful in increasing our understanding of the human–animal bond. On a more applied level, although obviously it is at a very early stage of understanding, in the future, this information may be useful for the development of tools that could assist shelter employees and veterinarians. Understanding more about which human qualities may aid in the human–animal bond may help shelter workers, pet behavior consultants, and veterinarians provide more counseling or ongoing support to help promote a good relationship between owners and their pets. (MK)

See also:
Freiwald A, Litster A, Weng HY. Survey to investigate pet ownership and attitudes to pet care in metropolitan Chicago dog and/or cat owners. Prev Vet Med. 2014 Aug 1;115(3-4):198-204.