Dog Anxiety: Are Some Dog Breeds More Anxious Than Others?
Dog Anxiety: Are Some Dog Breeds More Anxious Than Others?
Problematic dog behavior often leads to dogs being turned over to shelters, abandoned, or euthanized. Dog anxiety behaviors are caused by complex interactions among genetics. It is due to early life experiences, traumatic events, and the current environment. Also, efforts to change the dog's behavior through training and behavioral modifications.
The most common problematic behavior of dog anxiety exhibited are excessive barking; fearful, reactive, and anxious behaviors; destructive behaviors; unwanted prey drive; dog-to-dog aggression; and dog-to-human aggression. Fearful, reactive, anxious, and compulsive behaviors are related, and they can lead to aggression, excessive barking, and destructive behaviors. Thus, it is important to understand what causes dog anxiety. Engage in efforts to prevent it and find ways to treat or manage it.
Breeds That Are Prone to Dog Anxiety
A 2020 study in Finland of 13,700 pet dogs comprising 264 different breeds aimed to investigate anxiety in dogs. They stratified the concept of "anxiety" into seven distinct categories:
- Noise sensitivity
- General fearfulness
- Fear of surfaces/heights
- Compulsive behaviors triggered by anxiety
- Separation anxiety
- Aggression related to anxiety
General fearfulness and noise sensitivity were the most common dog anxiety traits, affecting 29% and 32%, respectively. Most of the noise-sensitive dogs were afraid of fireworks, gunshots, and thunder. The most common fears among the fearful dogs were fear of other dogs. Then, followed by fear of human strangers and fear of novel situations. The most common compulsive behavior was self-biting, chewing, and licking.
The study also shows some strong interactions between traits that are often by the same dog. The dogs with separation anxiety were often hyperactive, impulsive, and inattentive. Dogs with compulsive behaviors were often hyperactive and had separation anxiety. While dogs with aggressive behaviors toward humans were usually due to general fearfulness.
Signs of Dog Anxiety
The study also found significant differences in these traits by breed. The breeds with the highest prevalence of each fearful/anxious trait are below:
- Noise sensitivity: Lagotto Romagnolo, Wheaten terrier
- General fearfulness: Spanish water dog, Shetland sheepdog
- Fear of surfaces/heights: Rough collie
- Compulsive behaviors: German shepherd
- Aggression: Miniature schnauzer
- Inattention/hyperactivity and separation anxiety did not seem to have a strong breed correlation. More of them are because of environmental factors and life experiences
The Labrador retriever was the breed least likely to display any type of anxious, fearful, or aggressive behavior. Staffordshire bull terriers were also very unlikely to display anxiety or fearful behavior. But around 10% of these dogs engaged in compulsive tail-chasing. Likewise, Border collies were unlikely to display anxiety or fearful behaviors. However, they often engaged in compulsive staring, fly-snapping, and light chasing.
German shepherds ranked highly in compulsive behaviors such as pacing, excessive water drinking, and self-biting. Dogs with anxiety also have moderate to high risks of displaying aggression, general fearfulness, and noise sensitivity.
The Concept of Resilience
Many experts have suggested that instead of thinking about what factors cause anxiety and fearfulness, we instead focus on the concept of resilience. Some people and dogs can simply bounce back from horrible traumas. Moreover, to severe neglect. While other individuals have mental breakdowns when exposed to even mildly stressful events.
Thus, instead of asking which breeds are most prone to anxiety, we should be asking which breeds are the most resilient. Why and how we can enhance resilience in individual dogs by changing their environment. Lastly, check dog breeds through careful breeding.
Environmental Factors That Promote Resilience
Early life experiences are the most important environmental factor that affects anxiety and fearfulness. The period between birth through age 16 weeks is when a puppy's brain completes most of its development, and what happens during this period in terms of nutrition, exposure to stressful experiences, and exposure to the world profoundly shape the puppy's future behavior.
A puppy raised in a cage in a puppy mill or a kennel, surrounded by stressed dogs and never exposed to any experiences at all. They are far more likely to become anxious and fearful than a puppy raised by an experienced breeder. One who provides a calm, nurturing, and enriched environment, including plenty of early socialization. This kind of environment builds resilience in the puppy's brain.
Dog owners who enroll puppies in classes and engage in intensive socialization and life enrichment practices are also far less likely to end up with a fearful, anxious adult dog. Exposing a young dog to many other dogs, people, environments, and experiences makes the dog more resilient throughout the rest of its life.
For adult dogs, a large study found that the strongest environmental influence on fearfulness/anxiety was how much daily exercise the dog got and how frequently the owner engaged in activities involving the dog, such as taking the dog on leash walks, playing with the dog and spending time with the dog. Both were strongly protective against fearfulness/anxiety.
The L-CARS scale
A recent study developed a tool to measure the resilience of an adult dog. This tool asks questions about the behavior of an adult dog in certain situations and rates the dog's overall resilience. Although this tool cannot be applied by an individual visiting a shelter to select a dog for adoption, it can be applied by fosters who have spent time with the dog. They can use the tool to provide guidance about what type of home is best for a particular dog. This tool could also be used by breeders trying to select the most resilient dogs to be used as parents for future generations.
Be Mindful of the Dog’s Breed
Prospective dog owners looking for a non-anxious dog to adopt would be best served by using the classical advice of avoiding shelter dogs that appear to be shy. Dogs willing to play with a stranger in a stressful shelter environment are likely to be resilient dogs. Alternatively, seek out dogs who have been living in foster homes instead of a shelter. A foster home can provide a full picture of the dog's behavior and whether it is likely to be fearful and anxious.
Prospective dog owners looking for a puppy should spend a lot of time asking breeders how they raise their puppies and interacting with adult dogs produced by that breeder. Breeders who actively enrich and socialize the puppy environment and reliably produce non-fearful adults are breeders to patronize. Breeders who raise puppies in kennels or cages and aren't proud to show off their adults should be avoided like the plague.
What if My Dog Turns Out to Be Anxious or Fearful?
Despite best intentions, dogs often turn out to have anxiety and fear. When you take home a rescue dog, you have no idea where the dog came from or what it has been through.
If it was born in a puppy mill, was not socialized as a puppy, and was then abandoned, that is a lot of trauma to overcome, even if the dog started life as a member of a breed not prone to fearfulness.
However, a lot can be done to improve the behavior of fearful, anxious dogs. Calming pheromones, coats, and beds can be helpful. As mentioned above, spending a lot of time interacting with and exercising your dog can ease its anxiety. In severe cases, it is a good idea to consult a dog behaviorist for advice about the possible use of medications in conjunction with a behavioral modification program.
Dog anxiety should never be taken for granted, if you notice your pet having anxiety symptoms, MushyBeds is here to calm them down.