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The Effects of an Online-Guided, At-Home Dog Training Session on Owner Anxiety, Mood, and General Self-Efficacy During COVID-19
Many studies have now demonstrated the positive effects on humans from brief, unstructured interactions with dogs, including improved mood and reduced anxiety. Few studies, though, have explored the psychological impact when humans take part in more structured obedience training with the dog. This study examined the effects of owners taking part in a single session of online-guided training with their own dog in their own home during COVID-19 lockdowns. This group was compared to a similar group having an unstructured play session with their dog. Dog-owner relationship quality was also measured to investigate whether this influenced any observed changes to the outcome variables. Participants (N = 83) were assigned to either the training group, involving 10-minutes of basic obedience training, or a play group, involving 10-minutes of unstructured play. Before the sessions, participants in each group watched videos demonstrating the interaction and then completed the Dog Owner Relationship Scale (DORS) to measure owner-dog relationship quality. Before and immediately after the session, they completed the 6-item version of the state scale of the State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI-6), the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS), and the New General Self-Efficacy Scale (NGSE). A mixed between-within multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was conducted with follow-up Bonferroni-corrected univariate analysis of variance, to measure differences in the outcomes between groups over time. Results indicated no significant differences between groups, but revealed a significant, large effect on scores for both groups on all measures over time. Multiple regression, analysing interaction effects between the outcome measures and the DORS, found no significant effects, indicating dog-owner relationship did not moderate the observed improvements over time. Results from this preliminary study suggest that a brief, single-session, online-guided interaction with a dog – whether training or playing with them – can confer short-term, psychological benefits for the owners.