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Attachment Anxiety and Avoidance Influence Pet Choice and Pet-directed Behaviors

By Jeffrey D. Green, Anthony E. Coy, Maureen A. Mathews

Category Journal Articles

Attachment theory is a useful lens through which to examine both perceptions and selection of companion animals. Study 1 compared perceptions of dogs and cats, and found that dogs were perceived as having more positive relationship qualities and secure attachment-related characteristics, whereas cats were perceived as having more negative relationship qualities and avoidant attachment-related characteristics. In addition, people perceived relationships with dogs to involve less avoidance and less anxiety relative to relationships with people. In study 2, which built on the findings of study 1, attachment avoidance was negatively associated with wanting to own a pet, whereas attachment anxiety was positive associated with wanting to own a pet. These attachment dimensions were not associated with wanting to own a dog, but lower avoidance and higher anxiety were associated with wanting to own a cat. Study 3 was a longitudinal study of SPCA-type shelter visitors (510 participants, with 169 reporting a recent pet adoption). Lower attachment anxiety predicted recently adopting a dog rather than a cat, though neither anxiety nor avoidance predicted adopting a cat. Individuals who wanted a pet in order to facilitate human relationships were more likely to adopt a dog than a cat. Those high in attachment avoidance reported turning to their pet as a replacement for human companionship, and those high in attachment anxiety reported feeling more concern about their pets requiring more attention. Attachment anxiety and avoidance may influence the decision whether or not to adopt a pet, as well as the motivation underlying the adoption choice. Attachment also may influence the type of pet chosen (i.e., dog versus cat). In addition, attachment may influence the nature of the human–animal relationship, such as the time spent together, and the security felt regarding the relationship.

Publication Title Anthrozoös
Volume 31
Issue 4
Pages 475-494
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.1080/08927936.2018.1482117
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Adoption
  2. Anxiety
  3. Attachment behavior
  4. Avoidance
  5. Human-animal interactions
  6. Pets and companion animals