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Beliefs underlying dog owners' management practices
thesisposted on 2017-02-27, 23:03 authored by Rohlf, Vanessa Ilse
Dog ownership is a common practice in Australia, particularly in urban areas, where dogs are mostly kept for the purpose of providing companionship to one or more humans. Since dog ownership affords many social, psychological, and physical benefits to dog owners, as well as to the community as a whole, dogs play an important role in the context of urban Australia, as they do in other developed countries. However, having a large number of dogs embedded within urban communities is associated with numerous animal management issues. Currently the responsibility for managing companion dogs falls primarily on local councils, which enforce and educate owners on appropriate management strategies. One of the major problems associated with this role, however, is that available strategies are often ill informed by research. In particular, although management practices rely on the owner performing specific behaviours, very little research exists which identifies factors underlying these behaviours. The aim of this thesis was to fill this knowledge gap by investigating psychological factors in owners which drive dog management behaviours. To achieve this aim, questionnaires derived on the basis of theory were developed and used to elicit dog owner beliefs towards the following ten management practices: training, confinement, regular socialisation, identification through registration and microchipping, desexing, appropriate exercise and nutrition, veterinary care and regular vaccinations, and grooming. The role of the dog owner relationship in determining the extent to which these behaviours were performed was also investigated. Most participants were compliant with management behaviours but compliance was not unanimous. All behaviours measured were predicted by specific dog owner beliefs and many behaviours were, to a large extent, predicted by dog owner relationship variables. The extent to which owners perceived the behaviour to be necessary or important and the extent to which owners perceived friends and family to be supportive of the behaviours emerged as key variables. Dog and owner interactions, as an aspect of the dog owner relationship, were also predictive of many management practices. The more activities owners reported engaging in with their dog the more likely they were to report engaging in many of the management practices. While some methodological issues limit the generalisability of these results, the findings contained in this thesis are undoubtedly valuable for local councils and other government bodies as they seek to develop more effective dog management strategies. Strategies which highlight the benefits and importance of engaging in management practices and those that seek to enhance normative pressure to perform these activities may encourage greater rates of compliance. Further to this, local councils may also wish to take steps to integrate dogs more fully into the community through shared dog owner activities. Since normative expectations about what is and what is not acceptable were found to be an important predictor of management practices, encouraging shared activities in public areas may indirectly improve compliance rates by enabling the transmission of normative expectations about 'responsible' ownership. In addition to providing justification for these immediate practical applications, this thesis is important in demonstrating the value of taking a rigorous, theoretically-based approach towards solving a significant animal management problem. All too often the potential value of science in addressing anthrozoological problems is overlooked in favour of approaches based on hearsay and intuition. While this thesis relied heavily on the Theory of Planned Behaviour, and confirmed it as a model within which to understand some human-animal relationships, the scientific literature abounds with alternative models that should be explored by researchers working in this field.