Scholarly article on topic 'Understanding dog–human companionship'

Understanding dog–human companionship Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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Journal of Business Research
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{"Dog companionship" / "Dog-human relationships"}

Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Michael J. Dotson, Eva M. Hyatt

Abstract This article reports a survey of 749 dog owners. The survey focuses on owners' interactions with their dogs. This research identifies seven underlying dimensions that comprise the construct of dog companionship. The dimensions include symbiotic relationship, dog-oriented self concept, anthropomorphism, activity/youth, boundaries, specialty purchases, and willingness to adapt. Results suggest that certain demographic variables – in particular gender, age, and education level, as well as length of dog ownership, amount of quality time spent with the dog, and whether the dog is purebred or mixed breed – relate to these dimensions.

Academic research paper on topic "Understanding dog–human companionship"

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Journal of Business Research 61 (2008) 457 - 466

Understanding dog-human companionship

Michael J. Dotson *, Eva M. Hyatt1

Appalachian State University, Walker College of Business, Boone, NC 28608, United States


This article reports a survey of 749 dog owners. The survey focuses on owners' interactions with their dogs. This research identifies seven underlying dimensions that comprise the construct of dog companionship. The dimensions include symbiotic relationship, dog-oriented self concept, anthropomorphism, activity/youth, boundaries, specialty purchases, and willingness to adapt. Results suggest that certain demographic variables - in particular gender, age, and education level, as well as length of dog ownership, amount of quality time spent with the dog, and whether the dog is purebred or mixed breed - relate to these dimensions. © 2007 Published by Elsevier Inc.

Keywords: Dog companionship; Dog-human relationships

1. Introduction

Animal companionship is an integral aspect of life in the United States, with approximately 70 million homes claiming at least one pet as a member of the household (A.C. Nielson, 2002). Humans have many reasons for owning pets. Brickel (1986) suggests that animals provide "one highly reliable association in a person's life... more consistent and reliable than human-human." Pets are said to enter into a "relationship of mutualism" with their owners (Bradshaw, 1995). That is, pet owners believe they not only give but receive love and affection from their animals. Cusack (1988) contends that animals serve as confidantes with no risk of betrayal.

In addition to providing emotional benefits, pet ownership improves one's physical and mental health. Studies show that pet ownership reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, helps to prevent heart disease, helps to fight depression, and therefore lowers one's healthcare costs ( One possible explanation for these health benefits lies in the fact that pet owners, particularly dog owners, are more physically active than non-pet owners (Duncan, 1997). While the findings of such studies are interesting and add to the understanding of pet

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 828 262 2145. E-mail addresses: (M.J. Dotson), (E.M. Hyatt).

1 Tel.: +1 828 262 2145.

0148-2963/$ - see front matter © 2007 Published by Elsevier Inc. doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2007.07.019

ownership, their focus is primarily on explaining the benefits to people of keeping pets. Many pet owners know that there is much more to the special pet-human relationship. The nature and meanings of such relationships have been studied qualitatively by researchers from various fields, but have not been quantitatively examined. That is the purpose of this paper.

2. Dogs and their people

This study focuses on the dog-human relationship and the dog-related consumption experiences that come from such relationships. The central construct in this research is referred to as "dog companionship. " We define this construct as "accompanying and associating with one's dog and the relationship between the owner and the dog that results from such interaction" (cf. Webster's Dictionary). Dog companionship has attitudinal, experiential, and behavioral components that underlie it, and it is our object here to uncover its underlying dimensions.

Approximately 61 million dogs are pets in the United States (American Pet Association, 2002). A growing body of evidence suggests that dog owners (a term used here due to the lack of a better one for capturing the dog-human bond and due to its common usage and meaning) are paying more attention to and spending more money on their dogs. Aside from several qualitative studies, however, little consumer research facilitates an understanding of this growing market. Dogs occupy a

significant role in their owners' hearts and lives. Many dog owners report attachments to their dogs that are as strong as their attachments to their best friends, children, and spouses (American Pet Association, 2002). Interestingly, dog owners are more likely to anthropomorphize their pets than cat owners (Szasz, 1968).

Since ancient times, evidence from tomb paintings, artifacts, and texts reveals that people at all levels of society kept dogs as loved pets and members of the family. The dog is the oldest domestic animal (one whose care, feeding, and breeding is under human control), living with humans for approximately 10,000 years (Messent and Serpel, 1981). Throughout the ages, dogs have also influenced and inspired art and language, just as they do today (Thurston, 1996). Nineteenth century European art depicts dogs not as prized possessions, but as well-fed household members who participated in the daily round of activities (Tuan, 1984). In present society, evidence points to the role that dogs play in satisfying human needs for companionship, friendship, unconditional love, and affection — all of which have become increasingly hard to satisfy in "our nuclear families living impersonal suburban lifestyles" (Salmon and Salmon, 1983). In fact, 51% of current US dog owners consider their dogs to be family members (U. S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, 2002).

Pet owners' deep caring for their dogs is evidenced by increased expenditures on dog-related products in the US in recent years. When calculating annual household spending on a dog, one must include things such as food, treats and snacks, veterinary fees, grooming, health aids such as vitamins and flea powder, dog beds, brushes, dishes, collar and lead sets, toys, boarding, training, and travel cages, among other things (Szasz, 1968). The annual household budget estimate for one dog is approximately $1,000, not including one-time costs such as spaying and neutering, dog durables such as doggy doors and enclosures, and emergency medical fees (Medicine Hat SPCA. com). Part of the increase in pet-related expenditures is the growing pet-services industry in the United States, including such services as grooming, training, pet-sitting, and nail clipping. A dog owner may spend as much as $15,000 over the life of a dog if all such services are purchased (AC Neilson, 2002). Additionally, numerous online pet resources exist, with lots of niche sites and online communities of pet owners who can post pictures of their pets and join chat sessions on a variety of pet-related topics (AC Neilson, 2002).

The average dog visits the veterinarian twice as often as does the average cat (Dale, 2003). Dog-owning households saw the veterinarian an average 2.7 times, spending $261 per year. This amounts to total annual US expenditures on veterinarian services for dogs of $11.6 billion, representing 61.3% of total vet expenditures on dogs, cats, horses, and birds combined (US Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, 2002). In particular, pet owners are spending more money on preventive health care such as better nutrition, supplements, and dental work. Cutting-edge veterinary medicine, including MRI's and kidney transplants, is also more available, and pet owners are more likely to spend big dollars to save their animal companion in a health crisis (Dale, 2003).

With the increasingly mobile American lifestyle, dog owners have to deal with taking their pets along on trips and vacations or leaving them behind. In either case, marketers are developing scores of new products and services, everything from doggy-daycare centers to dog-walking services to more and more hotels and motels allowing pets (Gardyn, 2002). Honda Motor Company has even designed a new concept car designed for the needs of dog owners, along with a new line of "Travel Dog" car accessories (Sapsford, 2005). Twenty-nine million adults say that they have traveled with a pet on a trip of 50 miles or more, and dogs are the most common type of pet to take (78%) with cats a distant second (15%) (Travel Industry Association of America, 2002). Dog owners purchase many new pet travel products that make it easier to bring dogs along for the ride (Gardyn, 2002). provides information on establishments that are willing to accept dogs — including hotels, parks, and beaches. A new airline called Companion Air allows dogs of all sizes and their families to travel together on the plane. Airport dog parks are a hot new trend all over the US, such as Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport's "Bone Yard," featuring a 2000-square-foot shaded play area (Scotch, 2004). And Midwest Airlines recently announced a new frequent flier program for pets, who will receive a free round-trip ticket for every three domestic round-trip flights they take with their owners (USA Today, 2005).

This growth in dog-related consumption points to people's heightened involvement with their dogs. The increased amount of time, energy, effort, and money that people spend in providing for their dogs results in significant lifestyle changes for dog owners. According to a recent marketing study, these findings are particularly true for women, baby boomers, and higher income households (Dotson and Hyatt, 2003). For an increasing number of Americans, dogs are playing a central role in their lives, much akin to the role played by children, and are profoundly affecting people's lifestyles (Dotson and Hyatt, 2003). As marketers once discovered, if they did not make allowances for children, families went out less and spent less. Consumers said, "If the kids aren't welcome, we'll just stay home." The same could be said regarding dog-owning households today. Innovative marketers are responding by developing creative accommodations and a wider variety of activities available for dog-owning households.

3. Background

Quite a bit of academic research exists on the dog-human relationship. Fox (1981) reports four categories of such relationships: object-oriented (with the dog as possession), utilitarian/exploitative (with the dog providing benefits to the human), need-dependency (with the dog as companion or child surrogate), and actualizing (with the dog as a respected significant other). He goes on to report the scientific evidence that dogs have emotions like fear, pain, jealousy, anxiety, guilt, joy, depression, and anger and that the brain centers for such states are virtually identical in human and dog (Fox, 1981).

Katcher (1981) says that 99% of people talk to their animals and believe they understand to a degree. He says that in most

cases, pet owners use "Motherese" or baby talk (a simplified form of language used to help children understand and learn to speak). Katcher believes that the bias against sentimentality in science has blinded researchers' perceptions of the significant, distinctive role that pets play in people's lives and that we must recognize this relationship as one that augments relationships with other humans. Perin (1981) goes so far as to assert that dogs are a symbol of our own "memory of that magical once-in-a-lifetime bond" we shared with our mothers. She says people have dogs for the "satisfaction of giving and receiving complete and total love and devotion," which is why dogs are idealized in modern society.

In an extensive qualitative sociological study Sanders (1993) finds that dog owners, based on intimate interactions with their dogs, come to regard them as "unique individuals who are minded, empathetic, reciprocating, and well-aware of the basic rules and roles that govern the relationship." Dog owners see their dogs as consciously behaving so as to achieve certain goals in the relationship. In short, dogs are seen as taking the role of the "other" in their relationship with their owners, which requires owners in turn to take the role of the "animal other" in order to participate in the activities and rituals that make up the relationship (Sanders, 1993).

Other research shows that dogs serve important human-to-human social functions as well. One participant observational study at a public park documents dogs' role in exposing their human companions to encounters with strangers (Robins et al., 1991). This study shows that dogs serve to facilitate interaction among the previously unacquainted and to establish trust among the newly acquainted. Another study finds that the roles pets play in owners' lives serve three major social functions: the projective function (where the pet serves as a symbolic extension of the social self), the sociability function (where the pet facilitates interpersonal interaction by acting as social lubricant), and the surrogate function (where the presence of the pet, who is anthropomorphized, serves as a surrogate for human companionship) (Veevers, 1985). With the pet existing at the same standard of living as its owner, keeping a pet becomes a way of indulging and being good to oneself. Veevers (1985) uses terms such as "Dogdom," which refers to people who are interested in dogs (and that interest provides many social contacts), and "Doggerel," a kind of baby talk or talking to oneself out loud without expecting a verbal response, to describe the special relationships people have with their dogs.

The consumer-behavior literature includes several definitive pet-ownership studies. These studies employ qualitative research methods and are largely anthropological in nature, but shed great light on the nature of the human-pet bond. One consumer study seeks to explain the American passion for keeping animals as pets. Hirschman (1994) suggests six reasons for pet ownership:

1. animals as objects in the consumer's environment representing an extension of the owner

2. animals as ornaments wherein the animal is kept for its aesthetic value

3. animals as status symbols

4. animals as avocations, such as those individuals who exhibit or show their pets

5. animals as equipment whose use facilitates performance of other functions, such as the use of animals as protectors, guides, search and rescue animals, and therapy animals

6. animals as people, the most common reason, where the animal has the role of companion, friend, family member, sibling, or childHirschman goes on to explain the nature of animals as companions. Through depth interviews of pet owners, she describes how pets are seen as friends, family members, and extensions of self.

In a qualitative study with high involvement pet owners, Belk (1996) finds four main metaphors that can be used to describe the human-pet relationship. These are:

1. Pets as pleasure and problems

2. Pets as extensions of self

3. Pets as members of the family, especially like children

4. Pets as toys, representing control over natureBelk goes on to describe the mixed nature of the above metaphors, with pets acting as possessions producing playful pleasures (like toys), but with many of the characteristics and rights of human family members. However, they are still less than fully-adult (or even future-adult) humans. Still, people's highly personal relationships with pets are non-replaceable, and owners grieve and experience a loss of self when a pet passes away. Also, pet ownership presents the wild, dirty, messy, and chaotic aspects of animals in contrast with the tame, clean, orderly human condition. Belk concludes that pets represent a divided sense of self that reflects the way folks see themselves in today's world.

Holbrook et al. (2001) take a different approach and conclude that pets represent not just self-extending possessions or companions, but instead provide a series of consumption opportunities. These consumption experiences are above the domain explored by most marketing and consumer research, with pet-related consumption belonging to "the sphere of sacred consumption," in which much-loved animal companions are part of consumers' most private moments and are treated as family members. Accordingly, Holbrook etal. suggest seven themes that describe the opportunities that pets bring to human consumers:

1. the opportunity to appreciate nature and appreciate wildlife

2. the opportunity for inspiration and learning

3. the opportunity to be childlike and playful

4. the opportunity to be altruistic and nurturant

5. the opportunity for companionship, caring, comfort, and/or calmness

6. the opportunity to be a parent

7. the opportunity to strengthen bonds with other humans

In addition to these themes, this research further states that the dynamics of animal companionship "appear to go far beyond the confines of anything that we might normally associate with material possessions. . Consumers bond with their animal companions in ways that resemble human relationships . and

share a deep awareness that their relationship with one or more animal companions is an end in itself" (Holbrook etal., 2001). In an earlier self-reflexive study of his own personal relationship with his cat Rocky, Holbrook (1996) states that his cat is able to transform the "shared life of consumption into something truly extraordinary and even magical."

So while the special sacred nature of the dog-human relationship has been qualitatively studied and while expenditures on dogs and ownership statistics are well-documented, no quantitative empirical studies of the dog-companionship experience and the nature of its underlying dimensions exist. The current study attempts to fill this gap by identifying the dimensions comprising the human-dog relationship and by investigating the factors that mitigate such dimensions.

4. Method

4.1. Sample and data-collection procedures

The sample consists of 749 dog owners who filled out a self-administered questionnaire in a mall-intercept setting (424 respondents), a veterinarian waiting-room setting (219 respondents across five vet offices), or a dog-owning Internet-discussion-group setting (106 respondents). This convenience sample of dog owners ensures that a wide range of dog owners' opinions and behaviors are included in this study.

4.2. The survey instrument

The survey instrument contained fifty-seven Likert-scaled questions designed to measure various aspects of the dog-companionship experience, including both aspects of the doghuman relationship and dog-related consumption. A majority of these statements came from a prior study on dog-related consumer behavior (Dotson and Hyatt, 2003), an exploratory study that used dog-owner focus groups to look into the nature of dog ownership — including attitudes toward dog ownership, activities resulting from dog ownership (with a particular focus on marketplace activities), and expenditures arising from dog ownership. Questionnaire items were also chosen to represent the full range of conceptual reasons and behavioral dimensions that underlie dog ownership, as described in the literature investigating pet ownership. The balance of the statements in this study were added based upon additional focus-group interviews with dog owners. The purpose of conducting these additional focus groups was to allow people to discuss in more depth their relationships with their dogs and a fuller range of the feelings and behaviors such relationships engender. All participants in these five focus groups (which lasted approximately 90 min with 7-10 participants in each group) were self-identified dog owners. Each of the 57 survey items employed a five-point Likert scale format where 5= "strongly agree" and 1="strongly disagree."

Based on past research, focus groups, and personal experience, the authors suspected that interpersonal influence might also play a role in the consumption behaviors related to dog companionship. So Lennox and Wolfe's (1984) Attention

to Social Comparison Information (ATSCI) scale was included on the questionnaire. This reflects Bearden and Rose's (1990) finding that social influence on consumer behavior is moderated by the extent of consumer sensitivity to social comparison information.

The survey also included a series of classification questions in order to probe more deeply into respondents' patterns of dog companionship — number of dogs in the household, whether the dog is a purebred or a mixed breed, and respondents' behavioral interaction with their dogs such as the amount of "quality time" spent with these pets. The instrument concluded with eight demographic questions.

4.3. Analysis

The method of analysis used was exploratory factor analysis with VARIMAX rotation on the 57 Likert-type questionnaire items. A 12-factor solution initially emerged. Only the first seven factors could be meaningfully interpreted and explained a significant amount of variance in the data. Therefore, in the interest of face validity and simplicity, the seven-factor solution was used. Items that did not distinctly load on these seven factors are excluded from further analysis. In addition Multiple Analysis of Variance (MANOVA) was conducted using both demographic and dog-related variables as independent variables and the seven dimensions as dependent variables.

As basic sample characteristics, 51% of the respondents are female, 49% male; 58% are married, 42% unmarried; 28% have children living at home, 71% not. The median age of the sample is 43, and the median income is $50,000. The average number of dogs per household is 1.9. Of these dogs, 51% are purebred, 49% mixed breeds. The median number of years that the sample members have been dog owners is eight years.

5. Results

5.1. Dimensions of the dog-companionship experience

The exploratory factor analysis produced a seven-factor solution that accounts for 70% of the variation in the data. Table 1 reports the variables included in each of the seven dimensions of dog companionship that emerged, along with associated reliabilities. The coefficient alphas for all seven dimensions are greater than the 0.6 cutoff score suggested by Nunnally (1978) for exploratory research. These results show that dog companionship is a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon, in which various dog owners might possess varying levels of the different dimensions.

The first dimension, Symbiotic Relationship (eigenvalue = 16.04), describes the mutually beneficial bond between person and dog. This component is a combination of enjoying the nurturing component of having a dog along with the benefits received by both parties. In such a relationship, the human is happier, less stressed, less lonely, safer, and calmer, while the dog is treated as a child/person who is fed, cared for, and psychologically nurtured. This dimension ties into many of the findings from the literature stated earlier regarding the benefits

M.J. Dotson, E.M. Hyatt / Journal of Business Research 61 (2008) 457-466 461

Table 1

Variables included in dog-companionship dimensions and associated reliabilities

Symbiotic Dog-Oriented Anthropomorphism Activity/youth Boundaries Specialty purchases Willingness to

relationship Self-Concept Adapt

a = .92 a = .81 a=.87 a=.79 a=.84 a=.88 a = .71

I treat my dog as a My dog is my best I see dogs as more I can't imagine a I allow my dog I purchase items Owning a dog has

person friend like people than household without to sit on the online for my dog affected my choice

wild animals pets furniture of living space

When I am feeling Spending time with my I feel like I can I feel like a kid I like having my I am loyal to certain Owning a dog has

stressed, being dog(s) prevents me from communicate when I'm playing dog sleep on the dog food brands changed my grocery

with my dog spending as much time with my dogs. with my dogs bed with me shopping habits

calms me down with other humans

Dogs make the My dog(s) have helped My dog is a part My dog keeps me My dog is allowed I purchase luxury I purchase medical

world a place me develop better of my family young anywhere I in the items for my dog supplies regularly

for me relationships with house for my dog

other people

I am a happier I would not be willing to My dog is like a Having a dog I cook meals Owning a dog has

person because establish a relationship with child to me forces me to specifically For affected the setup of

of my dog someone who was not exercise more my dog my home

willing to accept my dog

I feel emotionally My dog is an extension I learn a lot from I travel with my Owning a dog has

attached to my of myself my dogs dogs affected the setup of

dog my outdoor property

I enjoy feeding and I have the same I purchase items

caring for another responsibilities for my Dogs on

living being

My dog keeps me from feeling lonely Having a dog makes

me feel safer Having a dog is like having a child living at home

My dog's psychological well-being is an important concern to

as a parent when it comes to taking care of my dog


I purchase items for my dogs from catalogs

I try to shop around for things for my dog I am willing to go out of my way to find special products for my dog

Price is no object when comes to buying my dog something that he likes

humans receive from having pets, but adds the notion that dogs also receive important benefits from the interaction with humans. This dimension relates closely to earlier qualitative research findings. Holbrook et al.'s (2001) consumption opportunities of being able to be altruistic and nurturant, as well as to gain caring and comfort from the animal seem most highly related to this dimension, as does the emotional involvement factor in Dotson and Hyatt (2003). Someone who scores high on this dimension is highly affectively involved with her/his dog and will expend more energy and effort taking care of the dog.

The second dimension, Dog-Oriented Self Concept (eigenvalue =2.53), focuses on the importance of the dog(s) to the human's self-concept and social self. The dog is both an extension of self and the human's best friend. Here, the person perhaps spends less time with other people in general due to her/ his relationship with her/his dog but seems to have a better relationship with other "dog people" and with those willing to accept the dog as a part of the owner. In earlier research, Hirschman (1994) discusses the concept of pets as extensions of

their owners, in which owners project their self-identity onto their pets and in which their pets are seen as extensions of ego and act as a form of self-definition — for example, when a "macho guy" acquires a big, tough dog to assert his masculinity. However, Hirschman does not explore the importance of a dog as best friend and the role this plays in defining how the person lives her/his life and sees her/himself. The Holbrook et al.'s (2001) study merely points out the opportunity to strengthen bonds with other humans that is gained from pet ownership. The Dog-Oriented Self Concept is a more holistic, profound construct than that found in earlier research. Dog owners who score high on this dimension are likely to see themselves as "dog people," and their dogs will play more central roles in their lives.

In the third dimension, Anthropomorphism (eigenvalue = 1.9), the dog is seen as more of a person and less of an animal. The dog is perceived as a child surrogate or as part of the family, who can be communicated with much like another human. Here, the dog owner has opportunities to learn from the dog. This dimension corresponds closely with both Hirschman's and Holbrook et al.'s conceptualization of the pet as child surrogate

and/or beloved family member with sacred human status and with Belk's (1996) idea of the pet as child with family-member status. The dog owner who scores high on this dimension probably talks to her/his dog, possibly in "Motherese" or "Doggerel," and makes a greater attempt to understand where the dog is coming from.

The fourth dimension, Activity/Youth (eigenvalue = 1.84), focuses on the increased activity levels of the person due to dog-ownership, where the person feels young or like a kid and is more physically active. This dimension corresponds with Holbrook et al.'s "childlike and playfulness" theme and suggests that dogs may serve as the catalyst to remove people's inertia and to make them more physically active. This dimension is the most utilitarian aspect of pet ownership, in which humans receive the benefits of increased exercise and, presumably, better health. Dog owners who score high on this dimension tend to play with their dogs more and, therefore, create opportunities to engage in physical activities with their dogs, such as taking them to dog parks, walking trails, or vacation sites.

The fifth dimension, Boundaries (eigenvalue = 1.32), describes the lack of limits imposed on the dog by her/his owners. This factor reflects the appropriateness of letting a dog have free run of the household or of not setting boundaries, such as allowing the dog to sleep on the bed or to get on the furniture. A higher score means that fewer boundaries are set. Belk (1996) addresses the messy, disorderly aspects of pet ownership, which lead to people's needs to set boundaries between this and the cleaner more orderly human condition. The recent dog-related consumer-behavior study by Dotson and Hyatt (2003) finds that humans who share the bed with their dogs are more likely to be more emotionally involved with their dogs, more willing to make special arrangements to accommodate their dogs, and more willing to expend shopping efforts on their dogs. People who score high on this dimension have fewer rules for their dogs and prefer the closeness they get from sharing their space with their dogs to the greater orderliness of the house with more boundaries.

The sixth dimension, Specialty Purchases (eigenvalue = 1.3), describes the extent to which people are willing to make a special effort to acquire products for their dogs. This component relates to the specialty status of both the shopping behaviors and the dog-related products that are purchased. Shopping behaviors include shopping online and with catalogs, being willing to shop around, buying on impulse, brand loyalty, and shopping with price being no object. Specialty products include brandname foods, luxury items, home-cooked meals, and travel. This dimension focuses on commercial consumption opportunities that are brought about by a higher level of involvement with products and that are in turn triggered by a higher levels of involvement with one's dog. Someone who scores high on this dimension probably receives specialty pet-related catalogs in the mail, has favorite pet-related websites, and visits specialty pet stores locally and while traveling. This person is fueling the growing specialty dog-related market described above.

The final dimension, Willingness to Adapt (eigenvalue = 1.08), refers to people's readiness to change their patterns of living and consuming to accommodate their dogs. Choice of living space, home, or outdoor set-up and choice of vehicles are altered due to

the presence of the dog. These dog-owning consumers are also willing to change grocery- and medical-supply shopping behavior for their dogs. This dimension suggests that dog-related consumer behavior goes far beyond the mere purchase of dog-related products, much as the presence of children in the home affects much more than the purchase of children's products. The introduction of a dog into a household reflects a significant change in lifestyle. The dog owner who scores high on this dimension considers the dog in many household purchases and arrangements.

These seven dimensions reflect not only the benefits and opportunities dogs bring to humans, but also a holistic and comprehensive view of what it means to include a dog as a member of the family or household.

5.2. Variables related to the dog-companionship dimensions

Dog owners can possess high or low levels of the dog-companionship dimensions, often associated with personal descriptors, such as level of social comparison, demographic characteristics, and variables related to dog ownership. This study investigates those relationships.

5.2.1. Social comparison

In order to investigate the moderating effect of attention to social comparison information, respondents were divided into categories of low or high via the median-split method (Bearden and Rose, 1990) based on their responses to the ATSCI scale. Those who score high are more likely to compare themselves to others and adjust their behavior accordingly, while those with low scores are less likely to do so. The authors hypothesize that dog owners who are less worried about what other people are doing and thinking are likely to score higher on the dimensions of dog ownership — they are likely to be more into dogs and less into people. The overall model, with social comparison as the independent variable and the seven dimensions of dog ownership as the dependent variables, produces a Wilks' lambda of .975 (F=2.598, pb .01). Univariate results show that low social comparison dog owners do score higher on the Activity/Youth dimension (3.65 versus 3.49, F=4.74, p = .03) and on the Boundaries dimension (3.27 versus 3.00, F=6.36, p = .01). This makes sense given that those dog owners less concerned with other humans may be more willing to be childlike with their dogs and to let their dogs into their personal spaces. No significant differences are found on the other dog-companionship dimensions.

5.2.2. Gender

Based on previous research (Dotson and Hyatt, 2003; Thurston, 1996) and on current statistics that show women as the primary caregivers for dogs in 72.6% of US households (US Pet Ownership and Demographic Sourcebook, 2002), it is intuitive that women will score higher on all the dimensions of dog companionship. MANOVA results confirm this expectation with a Wilks' lambda of .897 (F =11.46, p b .000) and significance across all seven dimensions, as illustrated in Table 2. Results show that women have a greater

Table 2

Univariate mean comparisons of significant dog-companionship dimensions by gender

Variable Males Females F P

Symbiotic 3.56 3.95 50.13 .000

Anthropomorphic 3.52 4.07 78.34 .000

Active/youth 3.37 3.75 32.90 .000

Boundaries 2.94 3.32 14.40 .000

Dog-Oriented Self-Concept 2.61 3.04 18.46 .000

Specialty purchases 2.62 2.96 23.80 .000

Willingness to Adapt 2.97 3.28 21.99 .000

tendency than males to embrace the dog-companionship experience across all of its underlying dimensions.

5.2.3. Income

Another prediction based on previous research (Dotson and Hyatt, 2003) is that higher income households and baby boomers will score higher on the consumption-related dimensions of Specialty Purchases and Willingness to Adapt. Though the overall model produced a significant Wilks' lambda (F =.891, p = .003), no such systematic relationship between income levels and these dimensions is found, except that according to post hoc range tests, households making more than $25,000 per year score higher than low-income households on Specialty Purchases (F =2.14, p = .05). This might simply be a matter of financial resources available.

5.2.4. Age

Comparing the dimensions across age categories again produces a significant overall model with a Wilks' lambda of .84 (F=4.52,pb .000). A summary ofunivariate results appears in Table 3. According to post hoc range test results, those respondents under age 35 report higher levels of Symbiotic Relationship than do other groups in the sample (p = .04), indicating that young dog owners are significantly more beneficially bonded with their dogs. Curiously, respondents in the over-65 group score lowest on the Anthropomorphic dimension (p b .000). Individuals over 50 appear most likely to establish Boundaries for their dogs (p = .02). Respondents in the 26-35 age group report the greatest Willingness to Adapt their lifestyles to accommodate their dogs (p = .04). Respondents in the over-65 age group are least likely to be willing to adapt (p = .03). So older consumers score lowest across most dimensions of dog companionship. Maybe the more recent societal phenomenon of increased involvement with and indulgence of dogs has impacted the younger folks more heavily.

Table 3

Univariate mean comparison of significant dog-companionship dimensions by age

Variable b 25 26-35 36-50 51-65 N 65 F P

Symbiotic 3.86 3.98 3.77 3.65 3.55 3.92 .004

Anthropomorphic 3.83 3.99 3.78 3.89 3.16 6.87 .000

Boundaries 3.21 3.45 3.86 2.94 2.89 7.05 .000

Specialty purchases 2.74 3.03 2.75 2.90 2.48 3.54 .007

Willingness to Adapt 3.30 3.47 3.27 3.19 3.05 2.37 .05

Table 4

Univariate mean comparison of significant dog-companionship dimensions by presence of children

Variable Children No. children F P

Active/youth 3.35 3.65 15.81 .000

Boundaries 3.24 2.87 9.21 .002

Dog-Oriented Self-Concept 2.68 2.94 11.70 .001

Specialty purchases 2.68 2.83 3.01 .06

5.2.5. Marital status

Intuitively, one might think that unmarried people would be more likely to own dogs as companions and to have more personal time to devote to their dogs. However, only 21.5% of singles own dogs in the US, compared to 36% of married folks (US Pet Ownership and Demographic Sourcebook, 2002). Also, past research has shown that marital status does not figure prominently in dog-human relationships (Dotson and Hyatt, 2003). Results here show that marital status, although producing a significant overall model with a Wilks' lambda of .973 (F =2.82, p = .007), appears to affect the dimensions only minimally. Univariate analysis suggests that unmarried respondents report a higher level of Symbiotic Relationship with their companions than do married respondents (3.90 versus 3.70, F =10.86, p b .001). Likewise unmarrieds report lower levels of Setting Boundaries than marrieds (3.25 versus 3.05, F=3.83, p b .05). Perhaps single dog owners simply have more space in their homes and hearts for their dogs.

5.2.6. Presence of children

The presence of children in a household would seem to impact interaction with canine members of the household. This analysis again produced a significant Wilks' lambda of .967 (F =3.45, pb.001). The univariate analysis shows three significant results and one marginally significant result, which appear in Table 4. Respondents without children score higher on the Activity/Youth dimension, have a higher Dog-Oriented Self-Concept, and are more likely to make Specialty Purchases than are respondents who have children. However, they also report higher levels of Boundary setting. It seems that if the reason dog owners without children score higher on several dimensions is that they see their dogs as child surrogates, they would also score higher on Anthropomorphism. Instead, they see their dogs more as animal companions than as children.

Table 5

Univariate mean comparison of significant dog-companionship dimensions by education

Variable b H.S. H.S. Some College Graduate F P

college degree degree

Symbiotic 3.45 3.61 3.94 3.83 3.93 6.85 .000

Anthropomorphic 3.06 3.64 3.90 3.92 3.96 9.34 .000

Active/youth 3.32 3.35 3.60 3.66 3.59 2.68 .03

Boundaries 3.92 2.80 3.05 3.05 3.23 4.66 .001

Specialty 2.43 2.63 2.84 2.85 2.92 2.63 .03


Willingness to 2.88 2.92 3.17 3.13 3.59 5.43 .000

Table 6

Univariate mean comparison of significant dog-companionship dimensions by length of dog ownership

Variable b 1 year 1-3 years 4-6 years 7-10 years N10 years F

Symbiotic 3.55 3.86 3.63

Anthropomorphic 3.35 3.93 3.65

Active/youth 3.46 3.57 3.49

Boundaries 3.77 3.06 3.01

Willingness to Adapt 2.95 3.19 2.91

5.2.7. Education

The education variable again produces a significant overall model with a Wilks' lambda of .826 (F=4.89, pb .000). The univariate results, displayed in Table 5, reveal some interesting patterns. According to post hoc range test results, some level of college/university experience appears to have influenced respondents' relationships with their dogs. Respondents with some level of college education (or more) have a significantly higher level of Symbiotic Relationship with their dogs than do respondents with no college experience (p b .000). The same is true for the Anthropomorphism dimension (p b .000), the Activity/Youth dimension (p = .03), and the Specialty Purchases dimension (p =.01). Curiously, respondents with less than a high school diploma have the highest scores on the Boundaries dimension (meaning they set fewer boundaries) (p b .000), while respondents who have completed high school have the lowest score on this dimension (p b .000). Finally, respondents with graduate degrees have the highest scores on the Willingness to Adapt dimension (p = .004).

5.2.8. Dog-related variables

The last three variables selected for analysis focus more closely on the human-dog relationship. First differences that might emerge depending on the dog's pedigree - purebred versus mixed breed - are examined. While the overall model produced a significant result with Wilks' lambda=.977 (F=2.18, p =.04), only three dimensions are significant in the univariate tests. These results are quite consistent. Owners of pure bred dogs report higher Boundaries dimension scores than owners of mixed breeds (3.24 versus 3.02, F=4.10, p = .04). They also have higher Dog-Oriented Self-Concept scores (2.90 versus 2.73, F=6.23, p=.01) and higher Willingness to Adapt scores (3.13 versus 3.00, F=4.86, p = .03) than owners of mixed breeds.

Respondents in this study own their dogs for a median of eight years. Comparing the dog-companionship dimensions with duration of dog ownership produced a significant overall model with a Wilks' lambda of .86 (F =3.905, pb .000). Univariate results appear in Table 6. Post hoc tests show that the longer one owns a dog, the more pronounced the impact on the companionship dimensions. Respondents who have owned their dogs for longer than ten years have the highest scores on the dimensions of Symbiotic Relationship (p b .000), Anthropomorphism (p b .000), and Willingness to Adapt (p = .02). Respondents who have owned their dogs for less than a year are less likely to report imposing Boundaries on their dogs (p = .003).

3.69 3.95 3.97 .003

3.74 4.02 7.18 .000

3.30 3.76 4.94 .001

2.80 3.14 7.05 .000

3.16 3.26 2.90 .02

It makes sense that the amount of "quality time" one spends with one's dog would positively impact the dimensions of companionship. This analysis, again, produced a significant overall model with a Wilks' lambda of .759 (F=2.424, p b .000). The univariate analyses appearing in Table 7 have produced a consistent pattern in the dimensional scores — that is, the more quality time one spends with one's dog, the higher the score produced in each respective dimension. Those spending more than two hours a day of quality time with their dogs report significantly higher levels across all dog-companionship dimensions except Dog-Oriented Self-Concept and Willingness to Adapt (p b .005 for all significant differences).

6. Discussion

This research represents a step forward in understanding dog companionship from a consumer-research point of view. While past qualitative research in and out of the field of consumer behavior has delved into this important issue and has produced many meaningful insights, no previous study has examined the dog-human relationship quantitatively. Here, seven underlying dimensions that comprise the construct of dog companionship are identified — namely, symbiotic relationship, Dog-Oriented Self-Concept, anthropomorphism, activity/youth, boundaries, specialty purchases, and Willingness to Adapt. A dog owner can score low on one dimension while scoring high on another, and how much of each dimension a dog owner possesses depends on various personal characteristics. These dimensions mirror qualitative findings from earlier consumer-behavior research on pet ownership, as described in the Results section, but provide a more comprehensive, holistic, and empirically-supported picture of dog companionship than has previously been available.

Overwhelmingly, gender of the dog owner makes a considerable difference in the degree of the dog-companionship experience, with women outscoring men across all dimensions. Since women are usually the primary caregivers for dogs,

Table 7

Univariate mean comparison of significant dog-companionship dimensions by amount of daily quality time spent with ones dog

Variable b 30 min 31 -60 min 1-2 h N 2 h F p

Symbiotic 3.27 3.76 3.87 4.28 32.26 .000

Anthropomorphic 3.13 3.83 3.94 4.35 44.20 .000

Active/youth 3.10 3.57 3.63 4.00 18.56 .000

Boundaries 2.84 2.71 3.19 4.02 25.12 .000

Dog-Oriented 2.51 2.79 3.00 3.22 17.07 .000


Specialty purchases 2.34 2.67 2.92 3.30 28.40 .000

Willingness to Adapt 2.69 3.15 3.23 3.45 20.09 .000

marketers should focus the bulk of their promotions on this demographic segment. Unexpectedly, Attention to Social Comparison Information (the degree to which people compare themselves to others) does not have much effect on how strongly dog owners experience most of the dimensions of dog companionship. This implies that people's experience of their relationship with their dogs is largely independent of their social orientation. Some important questions that arise from this finding deal with the nature of dog companionship, how it differs from human companionship, and the resulting consumption patterns. Who are respondents comparing themselves to — other dog owners or non-dog owners?

Younger people, overall, experience more strongly the dimensions of dog companionship, possibly due to a generational effect or perhaps due to more openness to the interspecies connection and a greater flexibility in their lifestyles. Our results recall the family life-cycle concept in that both marital status and the presence of children impact our dimensions. Anecdotal reports in the popular press indicate as well that trends such as later childbirth for married couples, later marriages for singles, and more empty nesters with no kids at home are fueling the dog craze (Fetterman, 2005). This suggests that marketers should reformulate the life-cycle conceptualization to include dogs (and other pets) in the definition of family. Even Proctor & Gamble is taking steps to profit from the global, not just American, trend toward treating pets as family members, complete with all the pampering and new products required by this higher status — such as tartar-control coated dog food adapted from technology used in the Crest toothpaste line (Brady, 2005).

Respondents with some exposure to a university education are more likely to embrace the concept of the human-dog relationship and to see dogs as companions rather than as pets to be owned. Promotional messages directed at the more educated segment should reflect this language. Different demographic segments possess different dog-companionship profiles that could be utilized by marketers in their segmentation strategies.

Variables related to dog ownership - such as whether one's dog is purebred, how long one has owned the dog, and how much quality time one spends with the dog - have a strong impact on the experience of the underlying dog-companionship dimensions. Dog owners who have purebreds show a meaningful increase in dedication to their dogs, as do those who have experienced their relationship with their dogs for over ten years and those who spend more than two hours of quality time with their dogs daily. The greater financial and emotional investments by these groups in their dogs and in their relationships with their dogs have increased the level at which they experience the joys of dog companionship.

7. Limitations and future research

One limitation to this research is that the bulk of the sample comes from the Southeastern US, which has a higher than average dog population compared to the rest of the country (US Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, 2002) and which might be systematically related to how people in the region experience canine companionship. Another limitation stems from

the manner in which the sample was obtained. In order to draw upon the broadest possible range of dog owners, respondents came from three sources — the Internet, mall intercepts, and veterinarians' offices. All three sources of respondents are subject to similar convenience and self-selection issues, which do not allow a response-rate calculation nor comparison between groups. It is likely that all respondents, however drawn, suffer from equal levels of time pressure and exhibit similar levels of involvement with the survey process. There is, unfortunately, no way to quantitatively evaluate this issue.

Another limitation to this research is that, because the survey instrument does not include appropriate measures, the prediction of consumer-spending patterns that follow from the dimensions is not discernable. Further research using causal modeling methods is likely to shed much light on these questions.

Motivational studies that explore the reasons behind the purchases people make with their dogs in mind would aid in understanding dog-companionship dimensions and related consumer-behavior patterns. For example, what specifically are they doing to adapt their households and lifestyles to accommodate their relationships with their dogs, and what are their reasons behind purchasing various products? Are people striving to be more or less inclusive of their dogs in their daily lives? Are they trying to make things easier for themselves or more comfortable for their dogs? Are their decisions based on personal preferences or expert recommendations or social acceptability? Understanding such motivations would enable marketers to tap into them in promotional and segmentation strategies. Also, are such adjustments and/or motivations different for other less messy pets, such as cats? In addition, is the experience of dog companionship different for dog enthusiasts such as those who breed and show dogs? Would their scores on the dimensions uncovered here occur at exaggerated levels? If so, what would this tell us about the dog-companionship dimensions?

Future research efforts should also investigate comparisons between pet owners and non-pet owners. Are there systematic differences between these two populations, and if such differences are found, are they psychological, sociological, and/or motivational in nature? How do highly-involved dog owners differ in their treatments of and interactions with their dogs compared to parents and their children? Though many such important questions remain unanswered, this paper brings us a little bit closer to understanding the dog-human bond from a consumer-behavior perspective.


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