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TDK conference 2017

The Dog’s Environment, Personality, and Certain Dog Diseases: a Psychosomatic Approach
Fekete Szilvia - year 6
ELTE Department of Ethology, University of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Veterinary Forensics, Law and Economics
Supervisors: Dr. Linda Gerencsér, Dr. Ágnes Sátori


Today in Hungary thousands of people share a home and everyday life with a four-legged friend, whom they tend to treat as a family member. These people know everything about their dog’s behavior, and can draw a very detailed picture of its personality.

In the past few decades the ethologists seem to share this increased attention towards a dog’s personality, and thanks to their work, now there are several valid, well-tried, and widely used personality assessment methods for the dog as well. Some of these personality assessment questionnaires are very similar to the ones seen in human psychology (Gosling et al, 2003).

On the human field, psychosomatic medicine refers to a very complex discipline. Most people use the word psychosomatic quite incorrectly, they usually refer to a wide range of physical conditions, that they think originates from the conflicts and problems within the soul. In fact psychosomatic illnesses have more to do with the personality than the soul, and thus can be measured well by scientific methods.

In this present study I aim to find possible analogy between human psychosomatic illnesses and certain health conditions of the dog, by integrating ethological methods with veterinary literature on the ethiology of specific canine diseases. As part of my owner-report questionnaire research I used two different, validated dog personality questionnaires, the Big Five Inventory, or BFI (Gosling et al., 2003), and the C-BARQ (Hsu & Serpell, 2003). I also wanted to know if the dog has any specific behaviour problems, measured by a list of them (Overall, 1997). The diseases I examined were irritable bowel syndrome, atopic dermatitis, peptic ulcers, idiopathic pneumonia, primary diabetes and malign tumours (cancer). I hypothesized to find associations between certain personality scores and the occurrence of the above listed diseases.

As an outcome of several statistical analyses I found that high scores in personality trait ’Emotional Reactivity’ (BFI) have a significantly positive effect on the likelihood that individuals are ill (OR=194.776, p=0.003). This result is similar to the ones found in several human studies (Goodwin et al., 2003, 2006, Huovinen et al., 2001, etc.). The interaction of the two factors ‘Emotional Reactivity’ and ‘Energy’ (BFI) also showed a significant effect on the likelihood of being ill.

Based on the results of this explorative study, it could be promising to think of the dog as a complex bio-psycho-social animal. One’s experience of his/her dog’s personality could be utilized not only in everyday life, but possibly also in the well-being and health-care of the dog.

Furthermore, based on this study it could be worthy to conduct more studies on a wider group of dogs with these specific illnesses, or to use other study constructions, or statistical methods.

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