Why Don’t People Want Pets? Part 2: Dogs

What stops people from adopting dogs from shelters?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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The AHA/PetSmart Charities study on barriers to the adoption of dogs has some interesting findings (see last week for the results on cats). The survey included previous owners (people who had owned a dog/cat before, but at least 12 months ago) and non-owners (who had never owned a dog/cat as an adult). 

The most common source of a dog was from family, a friend or neighbour (38%), with 22% going to a shelter and 16% to a breeder.  As with cats, the main reason they no longer had the dog was because it had died or had to be put to sleep, and the second-most common reason was because the pet was given away, often because of housing requirements (e.g. the landlord said no pets). More than half of previous owners had had the dog for over ten years, and a quarter for between five and ten years.

Amongst previous dog owners, the main reasons for not getting a new dog were vet costs (30%), general costs (29%), lack of time (27%) and travelling (26%). Amongst those who had never owned a dog, the main reasons were cleaning (30%), lifestyle (30%) and general expense (29%). No time (25%) and vet expenses (24%) were also cited. These are sensible reasons, and things that everyone should consider before getting a dog. Only 12% said that they didn’t like dogs.

A yellow labrador sitting on a country road with a big stick in its mouth
Photo: Jaromir Chalabala / Shutterstock

A fairly high number of previous dog owners said they would consider getting a dog as a pet (45%), compared to a quarter of those who had not previously owned a dog. Of both groups, more than half say they would go to a shelter or rescue group to get their next dog; a higher number than for cats. Younger people were more likely to consider a dog, as were those who had owned a dog within the last five years.

For people who had not owned a dog as an adult, having had a dog as a child, or another pet that wasn’t a cat or dog, made them more likely to consider a dog in the future. This is interesting because having a cat as a child had no effect on whether a non-cat owner would consider getting one, and having a dog as a child made people less likely to consider a cat. This makes me wonder if there is any difference in the relationship between a child and a dog, and a child and a cat. Certainly it seems to be perceived that way, since more than half of potential dog owners have a child in the household. Another possibility is that people become ‘a dog person’ as a child and this perception doesn’t change over time.

One of the most useful things about the study is that it may help to target campaigns for cat and dog adoption. For example, promotions of cat adoption are most likely to be successful if aimed at young adults, whereas dog adoptions could be aimed at adults under 65 since a wider range of people would consider a dog.  Those over 65 did not seem keen on acquiring a new cat or dog. Campaigns to increase the availability of pet-friendly housing would also help, since this was a major reason for giving up a dog. Rescue organizations will be reassured by the finding that more than half of those who would consider a dog say they would go to a rescue or shelter to acquire the animal. 

I am especially intrigued by the findings relating to children. Is there something special about the relationship between a dog and a child? Do you have special memories of a dog you knew as a child?

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology, and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats. 

AHA and PetSmart (2012) Keeping pets (dogs and cats) in homes: A three-phase retention study. Available online at https://www.americanhumane.org/publication/keeping-pets-dogs-and-cats-in-homes-phase-i-reasons-for-not-owning-a-dog-or-cat/ 

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