Owner characteristics and interactions and the prevalence of canine behaviour problems

Links between owner characteristics and/or how owners relate to their dogs, and the dogs’ behaviour

source: Andrew Jagoe and James Serpell
Applied Animal Behaviour Science vol 47 no 1-2, April 1996
starts p31, 12 pages long

Retrospective data have been used to assess links between canine behavioural problems and owner behaviour, and/or the relationship between owners and dogs. Statistically significant links emerged from this sample of 737 dogs for different behaviour, such as a reduction in competitive aggression (aggression when others are paid attention, or to other dogs in the home), roaming and escaping, and problems relating to separation (eg urination, barking and destructiveness) among dogs that had undergone obedience training. Obedience-trained dogs were also seen as more overexcitable and disobedient - which may be because they had been taken to classes precisely because of this problem. It is possible that formal training does not help with these two problems.

There also appears to be a link between territorial aggression (eg towards strange dogs, and people approaching the owner or dog) and dogs being fed after their owners. No link was found between dominance aggression (eg aggression when handled and disciplined) and feeding a dog prior to the owner.

Dogs sleeping near their owners seem more likely to have separation-related problems and show competitive aggression. Dogs may, however, sleep near their owners because they show separation-related problems, rather than having such problems because they sleep near their owners.

First-time owners are more likely to have dogs with dominance-aggression, problems relating to separation phobias relating to loud noises, and higher degrees of excitability. This may be due to lack of experience in communicating with dogs and handling them, or to breeds selected by first-time owners. Novice owners may also see certain behaviour as problematic that experienced owners do not see as a problem.

Competitive, dominance and territorial aggression also appear to be linked to reasons why owners initially decided to acquire a dog. Dogs selected as companions were less likely to show competitive aggression. Dogs chosen for protection were more likely to show territorial aggression, which may be due to breeds selected, types of behaviour encouraged, or how owners perceive behaviour. Those chosen for exercise were less likely to show competitive and dominance aggression, which may be because owners interact and lead more with such dogs. Dogs chosen for showing and breeding showed less dominance aggression, which may be due to training to accept invasive procedures.

It is not helpful to blame owners for problems shown by their dogs, but information on possible links between how owners relate to their dogs, and their dogs’ behaviour, can both help us to understand canine-human relationships and suggest better treatment for dogs when problems do arise.