Dogs' features strongly affect people's feelings and behavior toward them

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Abstract

Dogs are a strong appeal for people. The aim of this research was to assess whether different dog features affect people's feelings and behavior toward them. Three puppies (1 Labrador retriever, 1 golden retriever, and 1 Border collie), 7 average adult dogs (3 small, 2 medium, and 2 large), and 2 adult pit bulls (1 black and 1 brown) were involved. They were on the leash with handlers (12 girls) who were instructed to maintain a neutral posture of waiting. People who passed in front of the dog–handler couple were videorecorded and then interviewed through an 8-item questionnaire. Most passersby (81.7%) noticed the dog. Tenderness was higher for the puppies (64.9%) in comparison to the average adult dogs (35.4%) and pit bulls (10.8%) (χ2 = 100.442; P = 0.000). Pit bulls left more passersby indifferent (36.3%), followed by the medium-sized dogs (26.5%) and then the small dogs (19.2%) (χ2 = 37.268; P = 0.000). Fear was more common at the sight of a pit bull (10.8%), especially when compared with a puppy (2.3%) or a small dog (0.7%) (χ2 = 17.723; P = 0.001). More respondents desired to interact with puppies (49.1%) than with pit bulls (22.5%; χ2 = 11.133; P = 0.000), and they actually related with young dogs (20.5%) more than with the pit bulls (4.9%). A high statistical difference can be observed for the behavior of participants toward the different categories of dogs (χ2 = 43.519; P = 0.000) and their handlers (χ2 = 23.854; P = 0.000). In detail, passersby showed more interest toward puppies and interacted more with puppies and large dogs, and their handlers, compared with dogs showing different features.

Some factors related to passersby could affect the dog catalysis effect. Women interacted with the handlers more than men did (12.1% vs. 7.3%; χ2 = 3.980; P = 0.046), but no difference was observed for the number of interactions with dogs.

Passersby handling a dog were more predisposed to interact with the experimental dog (45.6% vs. 7.5%; χ2 = 139.606; P = 0.000) and his or her handler (43.5% vs. 5.7%; χ2 = 64,526; P = 0.000). Data suggest that puppies and pit bulls are at the 2 extremes of the dog appeal–people axis, with average dogs in the middle.

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