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"Who's been a good dog?" - Owner perceptions and motivations for treat giving

By G. A. White, L. Ward, C. Pink, J. Craigon, K. M. Millar

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Complex relationships commonly exist between owners and their companion animals, particularly around feeding behaviour with an owner's affection or love for their animal most pronounced through the provision of food. It is notable that the pet food market is experiencing strong year-on-year growth in sales of dog and cat treats. Recognising the impact of treat giving in pet nutrition, the objective of the study was to investigate owner attitudes and motivations towards feeding treats (shop bought and other) to their dogs. A researcher-mediated questionnaire consisting of both quantitative and qualitative questions was used to interview dog owners (n=280) at two locations: an out-of-town retail park and a country park in the East Midlands. Owners almost unanimously viewed the word 'treat' within a nutritional context, as opposed to a new toy or other pleasure. The majority (96%) of owners interviewed reported feeding treats to their dog, with 69% feeding shop-bought treats on a daily basis. A wide range of treats was reportedly given by owners and the majority of owners interviewed fed multiple treat types. No association was found between owner age and frequency of shop-bought treats fed (P=0.659) nor between owner age and frequency of food given to the dog from the owner's plate (P=0.083). A wide range of foods which would not be considered balanced for the animal's nutritional requirements was viewed as a treat by some dog owners. A range of positive and negative views around the feeding of treats were expressed by dog owners, with some citing beneficial effects while others were clearly aware of the association between treat feeding and potential weight gain/obesity. Owner views included themes around positive reinforcement and responsibility but also reflected relational aspects of the human-animal bond. The results of the study show that treat giving is commonplace in feeding regimes and that treats are embedded in the feeding behaviour of many dog owners. However, the different views expressed around the motivations for, and feeding of, dog treats, reinforce the need to better understand owner psychology linked to this area, and the role this may play in the growing pet obesity epidemic.

Publication Title Preventive Veterinary Medicine
Volume 132
Pages 14-19
ISBN/ISSN 0167-5877
DOI 10.1016/j.prevetmed.2016.08.002
Language English
Author Address School of Biosciences, Sutton Bonington Campus, University of Nottingham, Loughborough, Leicestershire LE12 5RD,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Animal nutrition
  4. Animals
  5. Animal science
  6. Anthrozoology
  7. Attitudes
  8. Behavioral research
  9. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  10. British Isles
  11. Canidae
  12. Canine
  13. Carnivores
  14. Commonwealth of Nations
  15. Developed countries
  16. Dogs
  17. Effect
  18. Epidemiology
  19. Europe
  20. Feeding
  21. Feeding behavior
  22. Foods
  23. Foraging
  24. Great Britain
  25. Humans
  26. interviews
  27. Mammals
  28. Men
  29. Nutrition
  30. nutritional requirements
  31. obesity
  32. OECD countries
  33. Pets and companion animals
  34. Preventive Medicine
  35. Primates
  36. products
  37. Psychiatry and psychology
  38. Questionnaires
  39. Relationships
  40. social anthropology
  41. Social psychology and social anthropology
  42. Union Countries
  43. United Kingdom
  44. vertebrates
  45. Veterinary medicine
  46. Weight
  47. Zoology