Self-disclosure with dogs: dog owners’ and non-dog owners’ willingness to disclose emotional topics

Evans-Wilday, Aislinn S. and Hall, Sophie S. and Hogue, Todd E. and Mills, Daniel S. (2018) Self-disclosure with dogs: dog owners’ and non-dog owners’ willingness to disclose emotional topics. Anthrozoös, 31 (3). pp. 353-366. ISSN 0892-7936

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Many owners talk to their pets about a wide range of issues, but there is very little research that has considered the content of this, or its impact on owner wellbeing. Verbal disclosure brings a range of potential health benefits, yet a number of factors may prevent individuals from confiding in their partners or friends (confidants). As such, in some circumstances, dogs may provide a more favorable alternative focus for disclosure. In a survey, we assessed dog owners’ (n = 286) and non-dog owners’ (n = 64) self-reported willingness to talk to their dog (dog owners only), their partner and their confidant. We used the Emotional Self Disclosure Scale (ESDS) for non-dog owners, and an adapted version of this for dog owners: Emotional Self Disclosure Scale–Dog Owners (ESDS-DO). Both dog owners and non-dog owners demonstrated a greater willingness to disclose to their partner than a confidant. For dog owners, their dog appeared to play a similar role as their partner, with greater willingness to talk to their dog about depression, jealousy, anxiety, calmness, apathy, and fear-related emotions, compared with a confidant. When talking about jealousy and apathy, dog owners reported greater willingness to talk to their dog than their partner or a confidant, but between-group comparisons (dog owner vs non-dog owner) revealed that dog owners and non-dog owners did not significantly differ in their willingness to talk to their partner or confidant, suggesting human relationships were not negatively affected by confiding to the dog. Participant age and length of relationship with their partner did not affect disclosure patterns for dog owners or non-dog owners. Males and females showed different willingness to disclose to confidants, but not to dogs. The results have implications for considering the value of dogs for human psychological health.

Keywords:dogs, human–animal interaction, relationship types, self-disclosure
Subjects:D Veterinary Sciences, Agriculture and related subjects > D300 Animal Science
Divisions:College of Science > School of Life Sciences
College of Social Science > School of Psychology
ID Code:31992
Deposited On:07 May 2018 17:59

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