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Relinquishing owners underestimate their dog's behavioral problems: deception or lack of knowledge?

By L. Powell, D. L. Duffy, K. A. Kruger, B. Watson, J. A. Serpell

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Undesirable behavior is a leading cause of canine relinquishment. Relinquishing owners could provide valuable information about their dog's behavior, although the reliability of their reports has been questioned by the sheltering community. This study aimed to investigate (a) whether relinquishing owners' reports of dog behavior differed based on the behavioral screening method; (b) whether relinquishing owners' reports were impacted by the confidentiality of their responses; and (c) whether relinquishing and non-relinquishing owners perceived the behavior of their dogs differently. The sample included 427 relinquished dogs from three animal shelters and 427 pet dogs, matched for sex and breed. Owners responded to a direct question about whether they were experiencing problems with their dog's behavior and completed the mini C-BARQ which includes 42 questions about the frequency and severity of specific canine behaviors in various circumstances. More than two-thirds (69.3%) of relinquishing owners indicated they were not experiencing problems with their dog's behavior when asked directly, compared with only 34.5% of pet owners. Yet, relinquished dogs had significantly higher (less desirable) scores than pet dogs across most C-BARQ scales. The disparity between C-BARQ scores and the single, direct question does not appear to be the result of deliberately biased reporting by relinquishing owners as the perceived confidentiality (or lack thereof) did not affect their responses (X2 = 1.44, p = 0.97). It is possible that relinquishing owners had less understanding of dog behavior and did not recognize behavior problems as a problem. Our findings support the use of standardized behavioral questionnaires, such as the mini C-BARQ, to collect behavioral information from owners at the time of relinquishment and highlight opportunities for animal shelters to reduce relinquishment by assisting owners to recognize and manage behavioral problems.

Publication Title Frontiers in Veterinary Science
Volume 7
Issue September
DOI 10.3389/fvets.2021.734973
Author Address School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Abnormal behavior
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Animals
  4. Animal welfare
  5. Anthrozoology
  6. APEC countries
  7. Behavioral disorders
  8. Behavioral research
  9. Canidae
  10. Canine
  11. Carnivores
  12. Clinical aspects
  13. Countries
  14. Diagnosis
  15. Diseases and injuries of animals
  16. Dogs
  17. Human development
  18. Income
  19. Mammals
  20. OECD countries
  21. open access
  22. Pets and companion animals
  23. Psychiatry and psychology
  24. risk factors
  25. shelters
  26. Social psychology and social anthropology
  27. United States of America
  28. vertebrates
  29. Veterinary sciences
  30. welfare
  31. Zoology
  1. open access