Dogs are often given up or abandoned because of behavior problems related to anxiety. A recent large-scale study looked at four of the most common fears in dogs and reached conclusions based on their findings. While the findings are useful, the conclusions may not be what they seem.
In a recent study in Finland, researchers collected data from nearly 14,000 dogs, including thousands of dogs, who are afraid of: fireworks, thunder, novel situations, and different surfaces or heights – called non-social fears. (Social anxiety, a second category, relates to anxiety about other dogs or people.) Previous research by the same group found that a large percentage of dogs had one or more of these non-social anxieties.
In the new study “Active and social life is associated with lower non-social anxiety in dogs” it was found that dogs with non-social anxieties are more likely to have the following characteristics: being little socialized as puppies, being changed (neutered / neutered) to be the only dog in the household, to live with owners who have no experience with dogs, to live in urban environments, and to have fewer opportunities to participate in activities and training. In addition, smaller dogs are more likely to suffer from antisocial fears than larger dogs.
In many ways, the results of this study are not surprising. It makes sense that the more positive the dogs’ experiences are and the more they come out (for both activity and exposure to various stimuli), the less fearful they are. A variety of positive experiences are especially important in a dog’s first months of life, a fact that is well known.
The study’s finding that dogs that received more socialization as puppies were less anxious than dogs that didn’t have these opportunities is in line with decades of canine research. It is already well documented that the level of socialization puppies experience has a tremendous impact on their behavioral and emotional development, including their responses to all kinds of stimuli.
To understand the other results of this study, we need to be careful to interpret the data correctly and avoid making assumptions. The maxim that correlation does not imply causality can best be understood with examples: Do not assume that tutoring causes bad grades, as children taught have lower grades than children who are not tutored. Do not assume that firefighters cause fire damage because the more firefighters respond to a fire, the more damage it causes. My favorite example of these types of mistakes is the assumption that high chocolate consumption is the reason why so many Nobel Prize winners are in science in some countries. Does consuming large amounts of chocolate lead to breakthrough discoveries? No, but wealthy countries – like Switzerland, where chocolate is a source of national pride – usually have excellent scientific research programs. and lots of chocolate for consumption.
With this in mind, let us consider the relationships found in this study between non-social fears and various aspects of dog life.
Anxious dogs were changed more often, but that doesn’t mean changes cause fear. It could be that when dogs act on their fears – perhaps by barking and lounging – they are more likely to be neutered or neutered by their owners to change their behavior.
People with multiple dogs and those with a lot of canine experience may be more likely to be on the go, whether that means training classes, lots of walks, or meeting other dogs. Inexperienced owners, or those with only one dog, may not feel a great need to get their dogs out for sporting or fun activities, and that difference in exposure can affect their dogs’ behavior.
Since those whose dogs are not afraid are more likely to involve them in activities, it may not be the activities and training themselves that make the dogs less anxious. It could actually be the opposite. Scared dogs can be difficult to handle in class or during other activities outside the home. As a result, they may not be exposed to such events as both they and their co-workers will be happier and less stressed at home.
Similarly, people may be less likely to use small dogs for socializations and activities outside the home. The researchers suggest that the association between small dogs and fear suggests a genetic component, but the effect they found could also be explained by people not taking smaller dogs to the same events that they would take larger dogs to . While fear has been shown to have a strong genetic component, as the report notes, experience is also important.
This study of non-social anxiety says a lot about the factors linked to such anxiety in dogs. What it does Not You must disclose the reasons why these fears correlate with various aspects of the characteristics of dogs and their lives.
This is not a criticism of the study, which is excellent with a large sample and some interesting conclusions. It simply means that we have to be careful assuming the links imply causality – they don’t. More work is needed to separate the various factors into determining why dogs display antisocial fears.