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Dogs as a psychological asset for professionals : a qualitative study of the psychological benefits of human-dog companionship

posted on 22.03.2017, 01:46 by Schaan, Jordan Dorothea
This thesis aims to explore a series of psychological aspects underlying the human-dog relationship, in order to better understand the significance and value dogs add to people’s lives. This qualitative study focuses on busy professionals who reported strong psychological bonds with their pet dogs. The aims of the phenomenological study were to explore how socially and economically successful people describe psychologically significant aspects of the companionship they experience with their dogs, how dogs add psychological value to people’s lives who are not physically or socially deficient, why such owners choose to have psychologically close relationships with their dogs despite their busy lives, and how dogs add meaning to their owners’ lives. The purpose of the study was to develop a deeper understanding of the psychological dimensions of the concept of ‘companionship’ between dogs and people. A series of semi-structured face-to-face interviews were conducted with 37 dog owners in Brisbane (an Australian city with a population of 1.8 Million people) in 2008. The sample was ethnically homogeneous, consisting of 25 women and 12 men ranging in age between 18 and 66. Owners first completed a qualifying questionnaire and were selected to participate if they were identified as having a strong psychological bond with their dog. Based on the analysis of the interview transcripts, four main themes emerged: (1) Human-dog companionship consists of psychological intimacy dimensions usually attributed to relationships between people. This finding offers an extension to previous research, where companionship was traditionally related to social support and attachment, or described in functional terms. (2) Dogs offer opportunities for owners to experience meaning, engagement and pleasure, which are considered key ingredients to happiness. The implication of happiness and its relationship to economic and social success are explored. (3) Owners feel unconditionally loved by their dogs, and provide a psychological asset to their owners. The implications of this asset are discussed. (4) Dogs possess virtue qualities highly esteemed in people, and may play a role in their owner’s self-actualisation process through role modelling of these qualities. The study offers a new contribution to research by examining the human-dog companionship from a psychological benefits perspective, with a population of dog owners considered to be highly successful by the standards of Western Society. As dogs have been identified as an important psychological asset to owners, this has important implications for policies in relation to residential and holiday accommodation, quality of care and services provided to dogs and their owners, provisions for evacuation of pets during natural disasters, access to out of home care facilities, and the support needs for owners who lose their dog.


Principal supervisor

Pauleen Bennett

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre


Campus location



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences