I’m a woman and I love dogs – am I neurotic?

frustrated womanOne out of five women score high in neuroticism. Anxiety, fear, worry, envy, frustration, jealousy, moodiness, anger and depression characterize people who score high in this personality dimension. They are more easily stressed out, have a higher tendency to being shy or self-conscious, feel lonely and are often impulsive. Neuroticism is a risk factor to some of the most common mental disorders and tends to be more prevalent in women than in men. Women are also known to be the primary caregivers in most households (US Pet Ownership and Demographic Sourcebook, 2012). Interestingly, pet ownership has been shown to improve our physical and mental health by reducing stress levels, lowering blood pressure, fight depression and prevent heart disease. Could there be a link between our choice of taking on a pet and being neurotic in the first place? Just like we tend to self medicate with alcohol, food or other addictions, could we unconsciously be looking to sooth our anxieties through our relationship with animals? This may be too far of a stretch, but one can certainly wonder if such personality traits predisposes to be attracted to pet ownership.  A new study reveals that daily interaction and communication with a dog definitely benefits dog owners with various degrees of neuroticism (Tateichi & al., 2014).

Humans and dogs have always shared a very special bond. Among all other animals on this planet, dogs hold the title of ‘man’s best friend’ and are often loved as full members of the family. They provide companionship, friendship, affection and unconditional love. Who else greets us day after day with such genuine enthusiasm? For a growing number of us, just like children, dogs play a central role in our lives and profoundly affect our lifestyle. More than just cute furry buddies, dogs also act as social facilitators and can contribute to our relationship with other people. It’s easier to engage a conversation with strangers when we’re walking a dog. Pets have been found to serve three main social functions: the projective function, as the pet is a symbolic extension of ourselves; the sociability function, as pets act as a social lubricant, facilitating interactions with others; and the surrogate function, as a pet will serve as a substitute for human companionship (Veevers, 1985). In many ways, pets have the ability to transform our life by encouraging us out of our comfort zone and providing us with chances to experience a broader range of situations. They increase our ability to appreciate nature and wildlife. They inspire us to learn and develop new skills. They bring out the playful child in us and provide us with opportunities to be in touch with feelings of altruism, nurturance, care and comforting of another being (Holbrook & al., 2001). All in all, dogs reduce our feelings of loneliness and increase our psychological wellbeing and satisfaction.

woman with chihuahuaIt’s a well know fact that dogs also provide a number of health benefits such as a decrease in blood pressure, and an increase in oxytocin (Odendaal, 2000). Therapy dogs can contribute to reducing anxiety and stress. Studies have even revealed that animal-assisted therapy can have as many benefits as cognitive behavior therapy (Nepps & al, 2011). In a recent study, dog owners have been shown to be healthier than non-dog owners. They score lower for psychosomatic symptoms and stress and higher for general health, vitality, absence of bodily pain, social functioning and mental health. Interestingly, this study did not show any difference between the two groups in regards to life satisfaction and happiness (Ramírez & al., 2014).

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US, affecting almost 40 million adults according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Neuroticism is one of the 5 dimensions of personality (“extraversion”, “openness”, “agreeableness”, “conscientiousness” and “neuroticism”). A higher score on this dimension shows a higher sensitivity to daily stresses, which means that a person may be more likely to feel threatened or frustrated by ordinary situations and will have difficulty managing their stress or controlling their anger. Such a person is also more tense and worried and generally prone to negative emotions. Neuroticism increases the risk of developing mental disorders such as depression, phobia, panic disorders, substance abuse and other neuroses and unfortunately, also increases the chances of earlier death (Mroczek & al., 2009).

happy woman with dogIn this new study conducted by a Japanese team, they looked into the effects of interacting with a dog in two groups of women. In one group, the women were instructed to interact with their dog, to call their dog, pet him/her and give a few commands. In the other group, the dog owners were asked to sit on a chair and completely ignore their dog. The heart rate and cortisol levels were collected in both groups. The results of this study revealed that spending a few minutes engaging with their dog, had much more effects on the owners who scored high in neuroticism than on the others. Interestingly, giving the dog a few commands had similar effects to stroking and petting the dog, but simply being in the same room with the dog, did not provide the same effects. This study suggests that dog training may offer health benefits to the neurotic owner by reducing their stress levels (Tateishi & al., 2014). Yet another reason to attend dog training classes?

So we can’t conclude that just because we’re a dog loving woman, we’re also likely to be neurotic. However, such studies demonstrate once again the many ways dogs can have a positive impact in our lives. But just owning a dog alone is not enough. The potential for stress reduction and social impact lies in the interaction with our pet. Interestingly, training our dogs may have unsuspected benefits not only on the dog’s behavior and on our relationship with him/her, but also on our physical health. This is especially true when we have a certain level of neuroticism! So next time you reach for a glass of wine after a long day of work, think of what a 5 minute training session with your dog could do for you.

Speaking of training… You won’t want to miss an opportunity to get your creative juices going AND win a chance for a FREE Pet Tutor®! Only a few more days left. Visit the Smart Animal Training Systems’ Facebook page for more information on the “The 12 day Feature Challenge”.

 

Jennifer Cattet Ph.D.

 

Holbrook, M.; Stephens, D.L; Day, E.; Holbrook, S & Starzar, G (2001). A collective stereographic photo essay on key aspects of animal companionship: the truth about cats and dogs. Acad. Market Sci. Rev.

Mroczek, D.; Spiro A. III; Turiano, N. (2009) Do health behaviors explain the effect of neuroticism on mortality? Longitudinal findings from the VA Normative Aging Study. Journal of Research in Personality. 43, 653-659.

Nepps, P., Stewart, C., Bruckno, S. (2011) Animal-assisted therapy: effects on stress, mood and pain. J. Lancaster General Hospital 6, 56-59.

Odendaal, J.S.J. (2000) Animal-assisted therapy – magic or medicine? J. Psychosom. Res. 49, 275-280.

Ramírez, G.; Teresa, M. & Hernández, L. (2014) Benefits of dog ownership: comparative study of equivalent samples. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 9(6).

Tateishi, K.; Ohtani, N. Ohta, M. (2014) Physiological effects of interactions between female dog owners with neuroticism and their dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior (9). 304-310.

U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook (2012). American Veterinary Medical Association

Veevers, J. (1985) In: Sussman Marvin B., editor. The social meaning of pets: alternative roles for companion animals in pets and the family. New York, NY: The Haworth Press.

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Jennifer Cattet Ph.D. has been working with dogs for over 30 years, as an ethologist with the University of Geneva (Switzerland), a trainer and a behaviorist (in both Europe and the US). As Director of Training for a service dog organization in the U.S, she supervised and taught offenders in the training of service dogs. Today she's the owner of Medical Mutts (MedicalMutts.com), a company dedicated in the training of rescue dogs as service dogs for conditions such as diabetes, seizures, PTSD, autism, etc. She's also part of a research team working on understanding the ability of dogs to detect changes in blood glucose levels through scent. Jennifer also works with Smart Animal Training System on the promotion of reward based training and the development of technology to support it (SmartAnimalTraining.com).

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Posted in Dog/human relationship, emotions, Misc, Psychology
2 comments on “I’m a woman and I love dogs – am I neurotic?
  1. Jenny H says:

    NEVER apologise for being a normal human being. And never apologise for being female or empathetic and caring.
    The attitude of seeing a dominantly female personality characteristic as ‘abnormal’ is a fossil that should be rooted out of the human psyche. I blame it on Freud. ;-(
    Notice that the other four categories of personality are considered ‘positive’.
    (“extraversion”, “openness”, “agreeableness”, “conscientiousness” )
    Where is Selfish? Egocentric? Inability to empathise? Inability to apologise sincerely? Thoughtless? Aggressive?
    Could be please replace ‘neuroticism’ with ‘senstive’, ’empathetic’, ‘caring’, ‘pacifiying’,

  2. Jenny H says:

    ‘Neurotic’ is also a term generally used by men to describe their wives when the wife gets upset over some selfishness or thoughtlessness on the man’s part.

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