Author: Hal Herzog Ph.D.
A new study finds huge differences between nations in preferences for pets.
My friend Nyaga Mwanki is a retired professor of anthropology at Western Carolina University where I worked. His son Munene and my daughters Betsy and Katie are the same age, and Nyaga was their soccer coach back when our kids were in first grade. Nyaga was born in Kana village on the slopes of Mount Kenya.
I once asked him if there were dogs around when he was growing up in Africa. He told me that dogs roamed freely in his village. Fierce dogs, he said, were highly valued because they could scare off strangers and wild animals. But he made it clear that these dogs were not viewed as companions. They were not allowed to enter houses or fed at dinner tables or sleep in beds. Indeed, there is not even a word in his native language for the category of animals we call pets
Why Do Some People Love Pets and Not Others?
For a long time, I have been intrigued by the question, “why do some people love pets and others don’t.” Factors such as gender, personality, and even genes are related to pet-ownership. But geography also counts. In Idaho, for example, 58% of households include a dog compared to only 24% of homes in Connecticut.
Dr. Andrew Rowan and I recently investigated differences between nations in rates of dog ownership. Andrew is President of WellBeing International, and he has been amassing material on global dog populations for years. Several months ago, he sent me a treasure trove of data on dog ownership in 70 countries. This information comes from a variety of sources including Euromonitor International (a global market research organization), Dr. Matthew Gompper (an animal ecologist) and the European Pet Food Industry Federation. I spent the next couple of months going over the spreadsheets, and we recently presented the results of our analysis at the 2019 annual meeting of the International Society for Anthrozoology. I was stunned by the magnitude of the differences we found between countries in the roles of dogs in human lives.
How Many Dogs Are On Earth And Where Do They Live?
Experts disagree about how many dogs live on our planet. Psychology Today blogger Stanley Coren calculated that there are at least 525 million dogs on earth, though he admits that this is probably an underestimate. Other researchers think that if you include free-ranging “street dogs” the number is much higher. Indeed, Andrew Rowan, Matthew Gompper, and Ray and Lorna Coppinger independently concluded that there are a roughly a billion dogs running around the earth. That’s one dog for every seven and a half humans.
These billion or so dogs, however, are not evenly distributed around the globe. Take, for example, Euromonitor’s estimates of pet-dog ownership in 53 countries. Among these nations, there were, on average, 109 pet dogs per 1,000 people. But as shown in the graph below, the differences between countries are huge.
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