The purpose of this exploratory study was to investigate if and what types of differences exist between men and women when interacting with their dogs in a “natural” setting. In the case of this study, we defined “natural” as visiting a public park with their dog. To do this, we completed a series of 10-minute focal follows (n = 177) on human–canine dyads at local leashed and off-leash dog parks from December 2018 to March 2019. Data collection included counting incidences of 14 specific interactions (i.e., “baby talks to dog” or “scolds/speaks harshly to dog”), observable demographics (sex of owner, age cohort, sex of dog), and additional notes (i.e., extended play sessions, talking to other park visitors, cell phone use). Women were more likely to baby talk to their dog and speak gently/whisper to their dog, while young adults were more likely to use collar correction/jerk the leash. The results also suggest young adults may be more likely to throw toys/play with their dog, though more data are needed to confirm this. Given the increase in invested pet dog ownership, we suggest that sex differences in interactions with pet dogs mirror the literature on sex differences in human parenting. This is particularly relevant as decreasing birth rates and climbing pet ownership give rise to the practice of applying parenting strategies to pets, suggesting the need to better understand potential welfare concerns that may mirror those in the parenting literature.
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