Child-dog attachment, emotion regulation and psychopathology: the mediating role of positive and negative behaviours

Roxanne D. Hawkins*, Charlotte Robinson, Zara P. Brodie

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Emerging evidence suggests that pet dogs can offer features of a secure attachment which has been associated with healthy psychological development across the lifespan. Limited research has investigated the underpinning mechanisms that may contribute to the benefits and risks of child–dog attachment during childhood. This study aimed to test the potential mediating role of caregiver-observed positive and negative child–dog behaviours, on the relationship between child-reported child–dog attachment, and caregiver-reported child psychopathology and emotion regulation. Data from 117 caregiver reports and 77 child self-reports were collected through an online survey in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Parallel mediation analyses indicated that child–dog attachment had a significant indirect effect on conduct problems through negative child–dog behaviours only. Child–dog attachment had a significant indirect effect on emotional symptoms, peer problems, prosocial behaviour, emotion regulation, and emotional lability/negativity through both positive and negative child–dog behaviours. Although this study found modest effect sizes, the findings suggest that the types of interactions that children engage in with their pet dogs may be important mechanisms through which pet attachment contributes to psychological development throughout childhood, and therefore further attention is warranted. Positive and safe child–dog interactions can be facilitated through education and intervention, which may have implications for promoting positive developmental outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number109
Number of pages18
JournalBehavioral Sciences
Volume12
Issue number4
Early online date15 Apr 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2022

Keywords

  • attachment
  • dogs
  • child development
  • companion animals
  • emotion regulation
  • human-animal interaction
  • pets
  • psychopathology

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