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The Psychological Effect of Dogs on Human, Social Behaviour: Could They Increase Interaction?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 2276 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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There have been researches done in the past that have supported the use of Animal Assisted Therapy and how it can change people’s behaviour in such a way that it makes an impact on their socialness in public areas. This gives a logical reason to carry out a study to gather more evidence to support Animal Assisted Therapy, and if social behaviour can be affected by a dog present which is the main purpose of this research. A total sample of 193 participants were observed at random at Roker Beach, Sunderland, by examining their behaviour in response to fellow individuals or groups. There was a significant difference in verbal and body language communications with while dogs were present, X2 (2) =8.002, p= .019. These findings verify that a dog can make a difference in their social ability that could also support the use of Animal Assisted Therapy.


There are theories and evidences such as Darwinism, that supports humans have evolved from their ancestors, and scientific evidence which verifies human beings and chimpanzees share a ninety-eight percent in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). These evidences suggest human beings are indeed, animals. Human beings show a lot of love and care towards animals – dogs being a popular pet choice for humans. Some studies have suggested Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) has been beneficial to people, lowering their blood pressure (Jenkins, 1986 cited in Fick, 1993), increasing their self-esteem, their purpose in life and even increasing their sociable interactions (McQuillen, 1985 and Winkler et al, 1989, Cited in Fick, 1993). Past observational studies such as Messent (1983), analysing people walking their dogs in a public park. His results demonstrate there was a significantly higher chance a dog owner would strike a conversation when doing the same route. He had noticed that dog owner’s conversations were longer when a dog was present – as if they were an icebreaker that allowed a safe opening zone for them to be more interactive. Messent work was studied in 1983, which may be outdated with generations arising, results may be different.

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Further research needs to be carried out to strengthen his work, and to test a hypothesis that Animal Assisted Therapy is indeed a therapeutic treatment for people especially for their social needs and to see if they increase the interactions. Does Animal Assisted Therapy really work? Predictions for this study is that they can increase social activity, people feel happier when surrounded by a dog. People show love to a dog that shares the same love to a baby, yet dogs are also like a best friend. Do human’s share a bond with dogs because there is a genetical relationship? This study will test if people are interactive or not while a dog is present and non-present.



In this study, observations were not to measure the number of genders, age ranges or cultural background. Children were also not taken into consideration. Total calculation was only based on the number of people that had showed an interaction or did not show any interactions. The total sample size of 193 were used for this study.


The design of this study is an experiment that is within-subject design. In this research, independent variable are the dogs and dependent variable are the number of interactions.


Data was measured using an Android technology device, Samsung Galaxy S7. A downloadable app known as Tally Counter was available in Google Play Store. By using the Tally Counter, it had allowed different measures to be placed into categories that gave a total number of interactions.


These studies had followed the ethical guidelines that are implemented by the British Psychological Society. However, participants had not given their consent as they were unware of research being carried out. No harm physically or mentally could occur due to the participants being unaware of research. A sample of population at Roker Beach, Sunderland was selected for this study. This area was selected because it is a popular choice for dog walkers to relax and enjoy their daily, morning routines with cafes and fish shops along the coast. To measure the variables, research was conducted twice on 12th November 2018 and 19th November 2018, both dates on a Monday, 10:15 to 11:15. The reason studies had taken place on the exact day and time was to see whether results were not just by chance. Taking into context, the weather on 12th November had areas of overcast and rain, with some areas of the sky having sunny patches, and 19th November having a rainier day. On the 12th November, research was observed in two areas on Roker Beach, Sunderland, to increase the numbers, as the same for 19th November.

The procedure was to observe the number of dependent variable by the independent variable. The independent variable consisted of sections of three: the responses from two different individuals or groups that both had dogs; one individual or group with a dog or dogs while the other did not, and two individuals or group with neither having a dog. Each time an individual had communicated verbally or physically such as a wave or smile, they were then added to the Tally Counter. Once there a sufficient amount of numbers and the hour was up, research was then completed.




Of the two-day studies a total dependent variable was randomly sampled at 193.0. To determine if there is a significant difference in the observed value and the expected count, data needs to be measured using Chi-Square Goodness Fit test, with a frequency of, X2 (2) =8.002, p= .019. The independent variable with individual or group having dogs had interacted 36 times with an expected count of 29.5, while a slightly higher number of 40 individuals did not show any interactions with an expected count of 46.5. Those who had a dog with the other having no dog had interacted 22, and no interaction was tallied at 28. In this category, those who interacted were expected to be at 29.5 and showing no interactions was expected to be at 28. Having no dogs at all, 17 people had interacted and an expected count at 26.0, where those who did not have a dog showed a greater number at 50 and that was expected to be 41.0.

Table 1. Observed (expected) frequencies independent variable and dependent variable



Expected count

No interaction

Expected Count






Dog/No Dog





No Dogs













The purpose of carrying out this observational study was determining whether a hypothesis is true – to strengthen further evidence in support of Animal Assisted Therapy and to see if dogs can increase people’s likeliness of interacting with others. Results show a similarity between the number of interactions of people who had interacted while a dog was present, and those that had not interacted. However, there was a much larger number of those without dogs present that had also not interacted. When comparing the result to what was predicted, dogs certainly do have an impact on people’s socialness. However, participants were not examined or had given their consent, researchers would be unware of any mental health issues, trauma, neurological damage, diabetic disorders or a high blood pressure to determine if the Animal Assisted Therapy would work on these participants. Although, they had certainly increased socialness in some participants, but many did not interact. This could be down to several reasons and situations. Messent study was observed in 1983 where many had stopped for long periods to socialise. What also needs to be considered here, a difference from Messents findings to this research is different cultural backgrounds or a new wave of generations. Some other methodologies issues in this study that could be considered changing is by adding categorical age ranges to future studies. There could be an increase or decrease in the older generations comparing to the younger generations. Statistics could categories whether they were male or female or other genders that makes a difference. For example, women could be more sociable than men in general and vice versa. Different locations could be considered with a larger popularity and different weathers such as a Summer period rather than Winter – as there is scientific evidence than weather changes people’s moods and emotions. The outcome of this study and the purpose of it, has acknowledge that Animal Assisted Therapy can impact people’s socialness. However, further evidence should be carried out to strengthen the different, necessary areas that could be improved.


  • Fick, M. K., (1993) The influence of an animal on social interactions of a nursing home residents in a group setting: The American Journal of Occupational Therapy
  • Jenkins, J. L., (1986). Physiological effects of petting a companion animal. Psychological Reports. 58. 21-22
  • McQuillen, D. (1985). Pet therapy: Imitating a program. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy. 52(2), 73-76.
  • Messent, P.R. (1983). Social facilitation of contact with other people by pet dogs. New Perspective on our Lives with Companion Animals. Pp. 37-46. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press.
  • Winkler, A., Fairnie, H., Gericevich, F., & Long, M. (1989). The impact of a resident dog on an institution for elderly: Effects on Perceptions and Social Interactions. Gerontologist, 29, 216-223.




PSY140 Ethics application form (observational study)

Workshop day and time: Tuesday 12-2

Rationale for study:


Using a variety of articles and sources, including the aforementioned, we will conduct an observational study to find evidence to either support or go against the claims made in articles, and in our hypothesis, regarding owning dogs and verbal communication.

Hypothesis: Will dogs increase the likelihood of verbal communication between strangers? Yes

Where will participants be observed? Seaburn/Roker beach, Sunderland

Will there be any restrictions on the type of participants observed? No. Both genders, any age, dog and non-dog owners. close; C!

What is the independent variable and its levels? Whether or not the participant has a dog.

What is the dependent variable (categories of behaviour)? Whether or not the participants interact.

Confirm that you will follow BPS ethics guidelines and health & safety: (observe only in public places where people don’t expect privacy, l<eep data anonymous, stay safe) YES

Confirm that you will not start collecting data until a PSY118 tutor has signed this form, and that you will not alter your study from what you have described in this form (any changes would have to be approved and signed again): YES




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