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The Italian perception of the ideal companion dog

Diverio, Silvana, Boccini, Beatrice, Menchetti, Laura, Bennett, Pauleen C.
Journal of veterinary behavior 2016 v.12 pp. 27-35
analysis of variance, animal behavior, castration, children, data collection, dogs, education, elderly, females, human health, human-animal relations, humans, males, men, pet ownership, pets, principal component analysis, questionnaires, social support, variance, women, Italy
The prevailing feeling of Italians toward animals is positive and based on respect. Dogs are often perceived as family members and, providing social support, can improve human health. However, the mutually beneficial relationship between human and dog can break, as demonstrated by animals being abandoned to shelters. Rupture of the bond between owner and dog may be because of a lack of correspondence between the owner's conception of an ideal dog and reality. The aim of this study was to investigate demographic, morphological, and behavioral characteristics important to the Italian public in their ideal dog, using a questionnaire previously administered to the Australian public. Data were collected from 770 volunteers (74.3% females) aged 18-64 years. Physical characteristics were not important in defining the ideal dog, but the percentage of Italians reporting to prefer a neutered dog (35%) was much lower compared with the Australian public (64%). In particular, most Italian men preferred a male entire/intact dog (68%, P < 0.001). Italian women were more willing to spend time with their dog than Italian males. Most people indicated that the cost of maintaining a dog was unimportant, but most dog owners reportedly spent less than 21€ per week (70%, P < 0.001). Consistent with the Australian data, the ideal dog for Italians should be safe with children, housetrained, healthy, friendly with humans and other animals, long lived, and obedient. Principal component analysis condensed ideal behavioral traits into 5 components, explaining 47.9% of the total variance: calm, sociable and healthy, well trained and adaptable, energetic, and easy to manage. Analysis of variance revealed that men preferred an energetic dog (P < 0.001) and participants living with children a sociable and healthy dog. Older adults (P < 0.001), dog owners (P < 0.001), and participants living alone (P < 0.05) perceived training to be important in the ideal dog. Dog owners also preferred a dog that is easy to manage (P < 0.05). In conclusion, gender, previous experiences, prejudices on neutering, and attitude toward the animals may affect expectations of respondents regarding the ideal dog. The gaps between ideal and real dogs highlighted in this study should be further investigated. These might be reduced by promoting an adequate education of potential dog owners about dogs' physiology and ethology and of the positive effects of training activities on dogs' behavior.