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J Fam Psychol. 2009 Aug;23(4):439-46. doi: 10.1037/a0014979.

Pet dogs as attachment figures for adult owners.

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  • 1Wright State University.


This study assessed the extent to which, and under what conditions, owners turn to their pet dogs in times of emotional distress. This feature of an attachment figure-safe haven-is a key characteristic of an attachment bond. Participants (N = 975, mean age = 47.95 years, 789 women and 186 men) were relatively dedicated dog owners who completed an online survey. Relative to other features of an attachment figure, safe haven was the least salient. Nonetheless, participants were more likely to turn to their dogs than they were to turn to their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, best friends, and children but less likely to turn to their dogs than to their romantic partners. Characteristics of both owners (being male, widowed, highly involved in the care of the dog, and uncomfortable with self-disclosure) and dogs (strongly meeting owner's needs regarding relatedness) heightened the likelihood that dogs were turned to rather than some humans. It is concluded that some owners develop attachment bonds with their pet dogs.

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