Feeling ruff: Nearly three quarters of all dogs suffer from an anxiety disorder such as fear of loud noises or dread of other dogs – and some even mirror conditions their owners have such as OCD and ADHD
- Researchers surveyed owners of nearly 14,000 Finnish dogs of various breeds
- They asked the owners about their animals behaviour under various conditions
- They included being alone, hearing strange noises and when meeting strangers
- The biggest cause of stress for dogs was loud noises and particularly fireworks
Nearly three quarters of all dogs suffer from an anxiety disorder and can even mirror conditions their owners have like OCD and ADHD, a new study shows.
Finnish researchers from the University of Helsinki sent surveys to the owners of almost 14,000 canine companions as part of the study into dog mental health.
They found 73 per cent showed some form of anxiety disorder and the related anti-social behaviour such as barking or aggression that go with it.
The biggest cause of stress for dogs was loud noise – mainly from fireworks and thunder, but they were also affected by other dogs and even people.
There were differences between breeds, for example Lagotto Romagnolo were the most likely to have a fear of thunder and a Labrador Retriever the least likely.
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Finnish researchers from the University of Helsinki sent surveys to the owners of almost 14,000 canine companions as part of the study into dog mental health
The analysis into dog mental health is the largest of its kind in the world and found dogs are developing similar personality issues to humans.
Sometimes these traits are developing in tandem with the dog and owner showing signs at around the same time.
Paper author Milla Salonen, a doctoral candidate, at the University of Helsinki said: ‘As in dogs, so in humans. This was new and surprising.
‘We discovered an interesting connection between impulsiveness, compulsive behaviour and separation anxiety.
‘In humans, OCD often occurs together with ADHD, but this is the first time the same has been seen in dogs.’
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CAUSES OF ANXIETY IN DOGS?
In total 72.5 per cent of dogs showed problematic behaviours, including aggression and fearfulness.
Noise sensitivity was the most common anxiety
- 32 per cent were fearful of at least one noise
- 26 per cent were afraid of fireworks, specifically
Fear was the second most common anxiety, found in 29% of dogs
- 17 per cent were afraid of other dogs
- 15 per cent are afraid of strangers
- 11 per cent are afraid of new situations
Mental health problems are rife across all breeds of dog – with noise sensitivity the most common trait.
This was followed by a dread of other dogs – or being approached by human strangers and then a fear of surfaces and heights.
Corresponding author Professor Hannes Lohi, also of the University of Helsinki, said concerning behaviours occur in ‘most pet dogs.’
He explained: ‘One such behaviour is sensitivity to sound, found in a third.’
The findings published in Scientific Reports add to recent evidence that Britain’s favourite pet is ‘losing the plot’.
The report found that their hair is going grey – just like humans.
Last year pet insurance firms saw a 50 per cent rise in claims for anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorders for animals.
The survey of Finnish dog owners found 32 per cent of dogs were fearful of at least one noise – with more than a quarter afraid of fireworks, specifically.
Fear was the second most common anxiety, found in three in ten dogs.
The main things that gave the pets the jitters, according to the owners filling in surveys, were other dogs, strangers and new situations.
Noise phobias, and especially fear of thunder, increased with age – as did being terrified of heights and walking on surfaces such as metal grids or shiny floors.
They looked at 264 different dog breeds as part of the study with 51 per cent female and the ages varied from 10 weeks to 17 years and 10 months.
Younger dogs more often damaged or urinated on items when left alone – and were likelier to be inattentive, hyperactive or impulsive.
The authors of the research paper found younger dogs also chased their tails more.
Males were more likely to be aggressive, hyperactive or impulsive, and females were more likely to be fearful when suffering from anxiety.
Differences were identified between breeds although all showed some anxiety.
Lagotto Romano, Wheaten Terrier and mixes of the two breeds with other dogs were the most noise sensitive.
On the other hand Spanish Water Dogs, Shetland Dogs and mixed breeds were the most fearful, the authors discovered.
One in nine Miniature Schnauzers were aggressive towards strangers, compared to fewer than one in 250 Labrador Retrievers.
‘The findings suggest canine anxieties and behaviour problems may be common across breeds,’ said Lohi.
‘Efforts should be made to decrease the prevalence of these conditions, for instance through breeding policies and changes to the living environment.’
Younger dogs more often damaged or urinated on items when left alone – and were likelier to be inattentive, hyperactive or impulsive
His team asked participants about the prevalence of seven characteristics in dogs.
These included sensitivity to sound, including thunder, fireworks and shots; fearfulness related to humans, other dogs and unfamiliar locations, among others; and fear of various surfaces and heights.
The others were an inability to concentrate and impulsiveness; compulsive behaviour; aggressiveness; and separation anxiety.
‘The problems appear to be quite breed-specific,’ Lohi said of the characteristics.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE BREEDS?
- Lagotto Romagnolo were the most likely to have a fear of thunder and a Labrador Retriever the least likely
- Spanish Water Dogs had the biggest fear of strangers with the Staffordshire Bull Terrier the bravest
- Rough Collies had the biggest fear of surfaces and heights with a border collie the least scared
- Mixed breed dogs were the most hyperactive and least attentive
- Rough collies were the least hyperactive and Spanish water dogs the most attentive
- Miniature Schnauzers were the most aggressive towards strangers and a Labrador Retriever the least aggressive
- Staffordshire Bull Terriers are the most likely to chase their tail and the Lagotto Romagnolo are the least likely
- The nosiest dogs were Wheaten Terriers with Smooth Collies the quietest
‘For example, in Border Collies we observed more obsessive staring and hunting of light or shadows, behaviours that occurred more rarely in all other breeds,’ said Lohi.
‘One of the biggest differences was identified in fearfulness related to unfamiliar human beings.’
An example of this comes from the Spanish Water Dog, which was 18 times more timid than the bravest breed, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
The aim of the work is to boost canine welfare, Salonen explained.
Fearfulness and sensitivity to noise can cause intense stress in dogs and behavioural problems may result in the owner abandoning the animal.
‘Our findings indicate unwanted behaviour seems to be inherited, which means, through careful breeding that relies on suitable behaviour indicators, the prevalence of such behaviour traits could be decreased,’ said Lohi.
‘This would improve the quality of life of not only the dogs, but their owners too.’
The study may also shed light on what underlies human mental illnesses as physiologically and behaviourally, dogs are similar to us.
What is more, anxiety disorders are occurring naturally in dogs who also share the same complex social environment with humans.
‘With the help of this project and data, we will continue investigating how good a model species the dog is in research focused on human mental health problems.
‘Our previous genetic research pointed to the same gene loci, at least in terms of fear,’ Lohi concluded.
The research has been published in the journal Scientific Report.
HOW DID DOGS BECOME DOMESTICATED?
A genetic analysis of the world’s oldest known dog remains revealed that dogs were domesticated in a single event by humans living in Eurasia, around 20,000 to 40,000 years ago.
Dr Krishna Veeramah, an assistant professor in evolution at Stony Brook University, told MailOnline: ‘The process of dog domestication would have been a very complex process, involving a number of generations where signature dog traits evolved gradually.
‘The current hypothesis is that the domestication of dogs likely arose passively, with a population of wolves somewhere in the world living on the outskirts of hunter-gatherer camps feeding off refuse created by the humans.
‘Those wolves that were tamer and less aggressive would have been more successful at this, and while the humans did not initially gain any kind of benefit from this process, over time they would have developed some kind of symbiotic [mutually beneficial] relationship with these animals, eventually evolving into the dogs we see today.’
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