How To Build Better Dog-Human Companionship
People living with companion dogs know all too well that the relationship between ourselves and our canine companions can be a complicated one, full of both joys and frustrations. A recent study by a team of Dutch researchers looked at the factors that influence relationship satisfaction between humans and companion dogs. Specifically, they looked at what characterized the relationship between dogs and their guardians who reported being “very satisfied” with the dynamic between them. The point was to better understand the foundation of what contributes to a happy human-dog companion relationship, which could then subsequently reduce the rate of abandonment amongst dissatisfied dog guardians.
Unsurprisingly, the main drivers of guardian dissatisfaction were disobedience and aggression. Importantly, the latter far outweighed the effects of misbehavior in terms of relationship satisfaction and was much more likely to lead to abandonment or mistreatment by a dog’s human counterpart. This could perhaps be due to the subtle charm of having a “pampered” or “spoiled” dog who simply won’t cooperate but for the allure of a treat. However, it’s easy to imagine the difficulties of living with a dog who tends towards biting, barking, or otherwise aggravating other people and animals nearby.
Of note is that attendance at obedience training classes did not play a role in human-dog relationship satisfaction. This could be the case for several reasons: perhaps these classes are simply ineffective; alternatively, if such classes are effective, then their usefulness is random and thus couldn’t be detected in the analyses.
A third possibility—and one that limits the scope of this paper’s findings more generally—is that this study only looked at people and dogs that already had a “very satisfactory” relationship. Importantly, this effectively “selected on the outcome.” Or, put differently, the researchers drew their sample such that their findings could have been the only possible result. While this does not outright discredit the study, it does demonstrate an acknowledged need to study human-dog relationships that are not already “very satisfactory.” Not only might this illustrate the appropriateness of obedience training for some human-dog companionships, but it could also show how to better improve such relationships.
The researchers do admit this shortcoming and suggest that the biggest improvements, therefore, could be made in emulating what does appear to be helpful. Namely, they push for humans to adopt an animal that will not impose high costs on them; to try and find a companion animal with a compatible personality; and to, if necessary, take steps that are less harmful to the animal than abandonment.
Human-dog companionships are a truly magical connection for many people and canines the world over. Yet, there is immense responsibility in these relationships that necessarily fall on the human. As such, we need to care for and respect our non-human animal companions as best we can and where these friendships are “dissatisfactory,” take steps towards healing them, rather than merely abandoning or otherwise mistreating the animals that make up our better halves.