Treating Pets Well: The Role of Attachment Anxiety and Avoidance

Anthony E. Coy1 & Jeffrey D. Green2
1: University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee
2: Virginia Commonwealth University

Although the benefits of human-animal interactions (especially pets and companion animals) for humans are becoming increasingly well-known and implemented, less work has been done examining how such interactions affect the animal. Understanding the owner-animal dynamic is more important than ever as the quality of this relationship may affect the level of care an animal is able to provide the owner. In the present research, we expected owner attachment dispositions to affect caregiving and attentiveness. A community sample of 510 pet owners completed surveys on their global attachment and pet-related measures of rejection sensitivity, caregiving, and attentiveness. Results indicate that individuals high in attachment anxiety reported significantly higher levels of caregiving and attentiveness to their animal regardless of type of pet. In contrast, highly avoidant individuals reported significantly lower levels of caregiving and attentiveness behaviors. In both cases, the level of care is driven by pet-related rejection sensitivity; specifically owners’ concerns that their pet may be negatively evaluating and thinking poorly of them. These findings are consistent with previous work on attachment theory that suggests these evaluation concerns may lead to care and attentiveness that is actually excessive for highly anxious individuals and neglectful for avoidant individuals. Implications for human-animal interventions and future research are discussed.

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