Personality and social skills in human-dog interaction

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch

Dogs have been part of human life for many thousands years, with the dog most likely being the first animal to be domesticated by humans. The dog as a species has had an enormous success in the human world, and research suggests that a co-evolution of humans and dogs has resulted in the dog developing a social tool set that makes it very successful in interacting and communicating with humans. Human evolution has similarly resulted in the development of complex social cognition in humans. This enables humans to form bonded relationships, besides pair-bonding, and it seems that humans are also able to form human-dog relationships that are comparable to such interpersonal relationships. Human-dog interaction has been suggested to have various benefits for humans, but obviously the welfare of both humans and dogs depend on such interaction being successful. Unfor-tunately not all human-dog relationships are successful and every year a large number of dogs are relinquished because of failed dog-owner relationships. Therefore more knowledge is needed about the mechanisms of human-dog interaction and about factors related to successful as well as unsuc-cessful human-dog relationships.
The aim of this thesis was to attain a better understanding of some of the factors related to the inter-action between humans and dogs. This aim was addressed by focusing on dog personality and hu-man social skills in relation to human-dog interaction. Two studies investigated dog personality and how it a) affects the relationship with the owner, and b) is affected by human breeding goals. Two studies investigated how human social skills affect the communication and interaction between hu-man and dog. As part of these studies it was also investigated how experience with dogs interacts with human social skills, perception of dogs, and interaction with dogs.
For the studies focusing on dog personality, the Dog Mentality Assessment (DMA) was used to estimate the dogs’ personality traits. The DMA is a highly standardized test battery measuring the dogs’ behavioural reactions on a set of subtests. Using factor analysis it is possible to derive a set of underlying personality traits explaining the variance in the dogs’ behavioural reactions on the DMA. To measure the quality of the dog-owner relationship, the Monash Dog Owner Relationship Scale was used. This questionnaire assesses both positive and negative aspects of the dog-owner relationships, and has been used in other studies investigating the human-dog interaction. Dog breeders’ breeding goals were assessed anonymously by questionnaires.
Human social skills were assessed with the Animal Empathy Scale, and the Profile of Nonverbal Sensitivity (PONS) test. The Animal Empathy Scale-questionnaire measures humans’ emotional empathy for animals, and is based on a human-oriented empathy scale. It was investigated how em-pathy for animals affects human interpretation of dog behaviour watched on video. The PONS test measures the ability to interpret human nonverbal communication and its reliability and validity has been investigated extensively. It was investigated how human nonverbal sensitivity affects the be-haviour of the dog in a human-dog greeting interaction. Experience with dogs was assessed through questionnaires distinguishing between different forms of experience.
The studies of this thesis show that dog personality traits do not seem to have a large impact on owners’ perception of the relationship with their dog. Other factors, mainly related to the dog own-er, appeared to influence the owner’s perception of the relationship with their dog. The personality of dogs was shown to be associated with self-reported breeding goals of dog breeders. In general breeding goals related to dog show qualities were associated with dogs being less bold, whereas breeding goals related to trainability were associated with dogs being bolder. It was also found however that the effect of breeding goals differed between breeds.
Human social skills were shown to be associated with the interpretation of dog behaviour as well as the quality of human-dog interaction. Lower levels of empathy for animals were associated with interpreting the behaviour of dogs as more aggressive. In human-dog greeting interactions, lower levels of nonverbal sensitivity were associated with higher levels of insecure behaviour shown by the dog. Experience with dogs interacted with the effects of both animal empathy and nonverbal sensitivity: in both cases the influence of human social skills on human-dog interaction was only seen for individuals without dog experience. It was further found that different forms of experience with dogs seem to affect humans differently. No evidence was found, that experience with dogs increases empathy for animals or nonverbal sensitivity.
The findings of this PhD have implications and relevance for research on human-dog interaction and suggestions for future studies have been given. Moreover the findings have implications and relevance for dog breeders, dog owners, and professionals working with dogs, and they emphasize the great responsibility of humans with regards to successfully integrating dogs in the human family and society.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherSL Grafik
Number of pages143
ISBN (Print)978-87-7611-729-0
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014

ID: 113822383