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Attachment styles in dogs and their relationship with separation-related disorder – A questionnaire based clustering

Konok, V., Marx, A., Faragó, T.
Applied animal behaviour science 2019 v.213 pp. 81-90
animal behavior, animal welfare, anxiety, attachment behavior, children, cluster analysis, dogs, human-animal relations, parents, principal component analysis, questionnaires
Separation related disorder (SRD) is a common behavioural problem in dogs, characterised by severe physiological and behavioural signs which occur during the absence of their owner and significantly affects the dogs’ welfare. Dogs show similar attachment behaviour toward their owner, as children show toward their parents. While children’s separation anxiety is known to be associated with their own and their parents’ attachment style, in dogs it is yet to be investigated in a data-driven way, how SRD and attachment styles in dogs are related to owners’ attachment and caregiving styles.We collected data about dogs’ behaviour during separation and reunion and their owners’ feelings regarding separation using, an online questionnaire. We performed a principal component analysis and a two-step cluster analysis to form distinct groups based on the questionnaire items. We found four different clusters that differed in dogs’ behavioural and physiological signs of separation stress, their greeting behaviour, and their owners’ concern. These identified clusters accommodated well to the secure, insecure-anxious and insecure-avoidant attachment types, but secure dogs were found in two clusters that differed only in their owners’ concern. Dogs with owner reported SRD fit mainly to the insecure-anxious cluster, whose owners were not highly concerned on separation, suggesting a lower responsiveness and avoidant attachment style.Our study supports the theory that owners’ attachment and caregiving style might affect the dogs’ attachment style and SRD status. Our results also shed light on those behavioural, physiological signs and greeting behaviours which can diverge and were found to be of unequal importance for owners in the attribution of SRD and in their level of concern. This has important implications for diagnosis of SRD raising serious welfare concerns.