It is often assumed that pet dogs experience better welfare than livestock production animals because many owners consider them to be members of the family and, collectively, spend billions of dollars on them annually. However, this assumption is not based on scientific evidence, and a scientifically validated tool for assessing the welfare of companion dogs is currently lacking. Because dogs are extremely variable in type, and because they live in human homes and their owners engage in a variety of management practices, developing a standardized audit system may be impossible. However, the 5 freedoms, often used to evaluate the welfare of animals in livestock systems, could provide a simple framework for starting to develop such an instrument. A first step is establishing baseline data on ways in which dog owners attempt to meet their pet's needs. For this reason, we used a representative sample of participants (n=645, representing 800,000 dog owners) from Victoria, a state in south-eastern Australia, and administered an online survey to determine how owners manage their dog's environmental, diet and exercise, behavioral, social, and health needs. Descriptive statistics enabled us to identify patterns in the data. From these results, some dog management variables which could impact the welfare of a large number of dogs in Victoria were selected for comparison based on owner gender, using t tests, and owner age groups, using 1-way analyses of variance. Owners typically appear to be effectively meeting their dog's needs, but with notable exceptions. For instance, 26% of owners report that their dog roams free when outside the home. In addition, 85% of owners indicate that their dog is neither overweight nor underweight, even though research suggests that up to 40% of dogs are obese. This may mean that some owners are unaware of what an ideal body condition looks like. Nearly, half (49%) of our sample reported that their dog sometimes or often exhibits fear of loud noises, and 35% reported that it sometimes or often barks excessively. Male owners were more likely than female owners to report that their dog frequently exhibits a range of undesirable behaviors, such as excessive anxiety or distress when left alone, destructive behaviors, and aggression. However, female owners leave their dog at home without human company for longer periods of time than male owners. Younger owners were more likely than older owners to agree that taking care of their dog is more difficult than they expected it to be, and less likely to report that they are satisfied with their dog's behavior. These results can be used to inform educational campaigns, and they can be compared to results of similar studies across time or different places, although we recommend that future research should incorporate additional objective measures of welfare.
|Publication Title||Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research|
|Author Address||School of Psychology and Public Health, La Trobe University, Bendigo, Victoria, Australia.T.Howell@latrobe.edu.au|
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