The Psychological Processes Involved in the Development of a High-Quality Relation with one’s Dog

Lonneke Vink & Arie Dijkstra
Groningen University

Background. Several studies have found an effect of pet ownership on human health and well-being. We propose that these benefits can only occur when the pet owner perceives the dog in a certain way: As having a human-like psychological functioning and experience of the world (anthropomorphism), and as part of one’s identity (assimilation). These perceptions are thought to support the development of a high-quality relationship with the dog that can lead to positive effects on health and well-being.

Method. Two samples of dog owners (N=136 and N=928) completed an online questionnaire assessing anthropomorphism and assimilation, and relationship satisfaction and commitment to the dog (as measures of the quality of the relationship). In addition, a set of measures to validate the new anthropomorphism and assimilation scales were assessed.

Results. Anthropomorphism and assimilation were related to satisfaction and commitment in moderation and in mediation. That is, the relation between anthropomorphism and commitment was especially strong when assimilation was low, and the relation between assimilation and commitment was largely mediated by anthropomorphism. Furthermore, validating the new scales, anthropomorphism was significantly related to secondary emotions recognized in the dog, and assimilation was significantly and negatively related to self-esteem and loneliness.

Conclusion. The results show that anthropomorphism and assimilation had a significant relation with satisfaction and commitment, which is in line with the notion that this psychological process is important for the development of a high-quality relationship between owner and dog.