A brighter future for shelter dogs?

Bir, C., Widmar, N. J. O., & Croney, C. C. (2017). Stated Preferences for Dog Characteristics and Sources of Acquisition. Animals, 7(8), 59.

The study investigates the relationship between demographics and preferences when acquiring a dog. It focuses on canine characteristics and sources of acquisition.

The growing popularity of adopting shelter dogs reflects an increasing awareness of animal welfare. The study investigated the relationship between different demographic groups in the United States, and their preferences when acquiring a dog. It focuses on preferred canine characteristics, and sources of acquisition. The results suggest that there are differences between demographic groups, most notably between men and women.

The authors explored if specific preferences for the acquisition of dogs are related to demographics. They also examined the relationship between answers given about dog ownership, characteristics, acquisition and welfare. The team presented a group of 1523 U.S. residents with an on-line survey that included questions about dog acquisition, animal ownership, dog welfare and dog breeding. A randomly selected sub-sample of 507 participants were used in the analysis.

The participants were asked to what extent they agreed with ten statements. The most consistent differences were found between men and women. A significantly higher percentage of women agreed with statements such as “The only responsible way to acquire a dog is through shelter/rescue”, and “Shelter dog populations would decrease if people stopped buying purebred dogs”. This may indicate a higher level of concern for animal welfare among women.

Significant differences were also found between age groups. Older participants believed it was acceptable to purchase a purebred dog and to acquire the dog from their preferred source. Results indicated that younger participants were more sensitive to welfare issues, this finding supports previous studies.

Participants that were either educated to degree level or had lower incomes were more likely to adopt a dog from a shelter. The former group might value contributing to animal welfare, while the latter might not be able to purchase a purebred dog from a breeder for financial reasons.

Attitudes favour shelter dogs

Despite some obvious demographic differences, many participants stated that adoption was both their preferred way to acquire a dog and the most ethical way. This may suggest that animal welfare groups and other institutions communicating messages about ethical dog acquisition and ownership have been effective in influencing public perception.  

The study also examined characteristics that participants look for when acquiring a dog. They asked respondents about appearance, breed, behaviour, genetic health, physical health, cost, source of the dog, experience/reputation of the source and compatibility to the owner’s lifestyle. While attitudes about genetic health and behaviour were not related to demographics, the other characteristics were found to be linked to specific demographics. For example, breed was more important to men than women, while women stated more often that the source of the dog was an important factor for them.

The increasing popularity of adoption from shelters is a positive trend that will hopefully continue. To maximize the potential demand for rescue dogs and guarantee them a better future, in addition to exploring people’s attitudes, further research could explore their behaviour  also.

World Animal Protection’s view

While dog ownership has been studied extensively, little research has explored attitudes towards dog acquisition. Such research can provide new insights to help improve the welfare of dogs and re-homing success.