Despite the prevalence of dogs as family pets and increased scientific interest in canine behavior, few studies have investigated characteristics of the child or dog that influence the child–dog relationship. In the present study, we explored how behavioral and some self-report measures influence a child’s reported attachment to their dog, as assessed by the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale (LAPS). We tested specifically whether children (n = 99; mean age = 10.25 years, SD = 1.31) reported stronger attachment to dogs that were perceived as being more supportive (measured by a modified version of the Network of Relationships Inventory), that were more successful in following the child’s pointing gesture in a standard two-object choice test, or that solicited more petting in a sociability assessment. In addition, we assessed whether children’s attachment security to their parent and being responsible for the care of their dog influenced reported attachment to the dog. Overall, perceived support provided by the dog was highly predictive of all subscales of the LAPS. The dog’s success in following the child’s pointing gestures and lower rates of petting during the sociability assessment were associated with higher ratings on the General Attachment subscale of the LAPS, but not on the other subscales. Caring for the dog did not predict the child’s reported attachment to the dog, but did predict the dog’s behavior on the point-following task and petting during the sociability task. If the child cared for the dog, the dog was more likely to be successful on the pointing task and more likely to be petted. These results indicate a dyadic relationship in which the child’s care for the dog is associated with the dog’s behavior on the behavioral tasks, which in turn is related to the child’s reported attachment to their dog. The direction of influence and nature of this dyad will be a fruitful area for future research.
- Canis familiaris
- Human–animal interaction