Dogs can be good for your social life

A recent poll of 2,000 dog owners by Janevic et al. (2019) supports previous findings that pets can promote social contact between other owners (Knight and Edwards, 2008). The researchers found pet parents met, on average, four new people thanks to their four-legged friend either through dog walking or puppy training classes.

Most owners also reported their dog gave them the confidence to speak to others. Interestingly, participants in this poll also said they felt it was important their dogs had friends, such as walking buddies, and claimed their dog had other animal friends with the majority being cats. This may indicate that most owners surveyed either had cats living in the same household or neighbouring cats, and that their dogs were prosocial.

These findings are important as disengagement theory proposes as people age, they experience a reduction in social contact (Cumming, 1975); owning a dog may help those most at risk of social isolation, for example those living alone or struggling with their health.

However, the results from this recent poll suggest owners who are experiencing issues with their pets, such as dog-dog reactivity, may have not participated. That is because owners of reactive dogs, typically, walk when and where fewer people are around to reduce the risk of the unwanted behaviour occurring.  By walking in quieter areas this could limit the owner’s social contact and, consequently, this could lead to an owner feeling some resentment towards their dog’s undesirable behaviour – or – a sense of isolation; and this presents a future research opportunity.

 

References
Cumming, E. (1975) ‘Engagement with an old theory.’ International Journal of Ageing 6(3) pp.187-191.
Knight, S., and Edwards, V. (2008) ‘In the Company of Wolves: The Physical, Social, and Psychological Benefits of Dog Ownership.’ Journal of Aging and Health 20 pp.437-455.
Janevic, M., Solway, E., Malani, P., Singer, D., Kirch, M., Kullgren, J., Connell, C. (2019) ‘How pets contribute to healthy aging.’ University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging. April 2019. Available at: http://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/148428

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