Making the right decision before acquiring a dog may help prevent the development of canine behavior problems and increase the likelihood of a satisfactory relationship. In this study, social-cognitive factors in decision-making were assessed in the phase before the acquisition of a dog (the motivational phase) to see whether they were associated with later canine behavior problems and satisfaction with the dog after formation of a relationship (the experience phase). Respondents (n = 193) filled in an online questionnaire several months before acquiring a dog and six and 18 months thereafter. Results indicate that the confidence of dog owners in their ability to train and care for a dog—assessed before acquisition—was associated with fewer canine behavior problems, more satisfaction with the dog, and lower perceived costs in the experience phase. Self-efficacy had no effect on consistency between planned and actual acquisition. People scoring high on social norms were more likely to adhere to their plans, while those who expected many advantages were less likely to do so. Moreover, several preparation activities were associated with consistency, with more frequent doubt in the motivational phase being related to greater inconsistency. People who frequently read books about owning dogs and who often talked about this with others were more likely to adhere to their initial plans. In contrast, those who often visited websites offering/selling dogs were less consistent, possibly due to impulse buying. In conclusion, the quality of the relationship with a dog seems partly related to human decision-making factors occurring before the dog has been acquired. Longitudinal studies of human–animal relationships could enhance knowledge concerning the social-cognitive processes underlying our relationships with animals, possibly providing starting points for interventions aimed at improving the welfare of both animals and humans.
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