As increasing numbers of single women are acquiring dogs to be their companions, mental health clinicians would do well to become familiar with this trend. Consequently, this study looks at the experiences of five childless single women who have acquired dogs for companionship.
Structured interviews were used to glean information about these women's past experiences, including parental attitudes about pets, childhood pets, past experiences with dogs, early attachment issues, why they chose a dog, what led to the decision to get a dog, predominant emotions at the time of acquisition, new experiences since getting the dog, benefits and regrets, the way the dog has affected the women's socialization, and the nature of the owner-dog bond. A second interview followed to discuss missing details, clarify material, and evoke elaboration regarding potentially significant data. This information was then included in the interview summaries as distinct subheadings as appropriate.
The information from these interviews was then studied and hypotheses made regarding important aspects of these women's stories. Comparisons were drawn among the women and possible patterns were assessed.
Overall, these women all had experiences of loss prior to the acquisition of their dogs, though they did not necessarily occur close in time to the acquisition. Loneliness was a common theme, and some elements of low self-esteem were evident.
An important factor is the influence of early attachment on the type of relationship developed with the dog and the changes that were experienced because of the dog. For some women, their interactions with their dogs created positive corrective experiences of attachment, whereas for others, the dogs triggered aspects of unhealthy attachments.
The main conclusion from this small pilot study is that awareness of the details of these human-canine bonds and their influence on the lives of single women should be included when taking a thorough bio-psycho-social history. This information will help clinicians to better understand their clients and potentially use these relationships as part of their treatment plans.