Evaluation of mediating and moderating effects on the relationship between owners’ and dogs’ anxiety: A tool to understand a complex problem
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CitationMaria Pereira , Antonio Lourenco , Mariely Lima , James Serpell , Karine Silva , Evaluation of mediating and moderating effects on the relationship between owners’ and dogs’ anxiety: a tool to understand a complex problem, Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2021), doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2021.03.004
AbstractAnxiety tends to aggregate in families, and families increasingly include companion animals, such as dogs. Based on previous research pointing to a ‘personality fit’ between humans and their companion dogs, this study explored the potential association between owners’ trait anxiety and dogs’ fear and anxiety-related behavior problems, while also testing for mediating and moderating factors. Two hypotheses previously proposed in the literature were here tested: that dogs may respond to their owners’ anxiety directly through emotional contagion, or that owners’ anxiety may affect dogs’ indirectly via (a) owners’ overprotectiveness - thereby restricting the dog's ability to familiarize itself with novel situations - or (b) their use of coercive dog-training methods. A cross-sectional approach was followed with use of an online questionnaire designed to measure owners’ trait anxiety and dogs’ fear and anxiety-related behavior problems, as well as owners’ protective behavior, and dogs’ emotional reactions to their owners’ emotions (i.e., ‘empathic trait’). Data were obtained from 1,172 self-identified dog owners. Results showed a significant positive correlation between owners’ trait anxiety and the severity of their dogs’ fear and anxiety-related behavior. No evidence was found for mediation of this relationship by owners’ protective behavior or their use of coercive training methods. However, the results showed a marginally significant moderation effect above a particular score in dogs’ ‘empathic trait’. This study suggests that owners’ trait anxiety is associated, to some extent, with the occurrence of dogs’ fear and anxiety related behavior problems. The extent to which dogs exhibit an ‘empathic trait’ may explain the strength of this association.
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