Unwanted behaviour common in dogs, varies between breeds: Study


PTI, Mar 8, 2020, 4:27 PM IST

London: Various unwanted behaviour traits in dogs like fearfulness and aggressive behaviour often occur simultaneously, depending on the breed, according to a study which may lead to early interventions for comorbid conditions in the canines.

Researchers, including Hannes Lohi from the University of Helsinki in Finland, used an owner-reported survey to examine seven anxiety-like traits and problematic behaviours in 13,700 Finnish pet dogs.

Their findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggested that noise sensitivity is the most common anxiety trait, followed by fear.

“We discovered an interesting connection between impulsivity, compulsive behaviour and separation anxiety. In humans, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) often occurs together with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but this is the first time the same has been seen in dogs,” said Milla Salonen, study co-author from the University of Helsinki.

The scientists found that 72.5 per cent of the dogs showed problematic behaviours such as aggression and fearfulness.

Noise sensitivity was the most common anxiety with 32 per cent of dogs found to be fearful of at least one noise, and 26 per cent of the canines being afraid of fireworks, specifically.

The researchers added that fear was the second most common anxiety, found in 29 per cent of dogs, including fear of other dogs (17 per cent), fear of strangers (15 per cent), and fear of new situations (11 per cent).

They said that noise sensitivity especially fear of thunder increased with age, along with fear of heights and surfaces, such as walking on metal grids or shiny floors.

According to the study, younger dogs more often damaged or urinated on items when left alone, and were also more often inattentive, hyperactive, or impulsive and chased their tails more than older dogs.

Male dogs, the study said, were more often aggressive and hyperactive or impulsive than female dogs, which were more often fearful. The scientists also reported differences between breeds.

“Problems appear to be quite breed-specific. For example, in Border Collies we observed more compulsive staring and light or shadow chasing behaviours that occurred more rarely in all other breeds,” Lohi said.

Lagotto Romano, Wheaten Terrier and mixed breeds were the most noise-sensitive, according to the study, while Spanish Water Dogs, Shetland Dogs, and mixed breeds were the most fearful.

About 11 per cent of Miniature Schnauzers were aggressive towards strangers, compared to 0.4 per cent of Labrador Retrievers, the scientists wrote in the study.

“One of the biggest differences among the breeds was identified in fearfulness of unfamiliar people, in which there was an 18-fold difference between the timidest breed and the bravest breed, the Spanish Water Dog and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier,” Salonen said.

Based on the findings, the researchers suggested that canine anxieties and behaviour problems may be common across breeds.

They said efforts must be taken to decrease the prevalence of these conditions via breeding policies and changes to the living environment.

“Our findings indicate that unwanted behaviour seems to be inherited, which means that, through careful breeding that relies on suitable behaviour indicators, the prevalence of such behaviour traits could be decreased,” Lohi said.

“This would improve the quality of life of not only the dogs but their owners too,” he added.

The study said there’s already another mechanism for a basic form of perspective-taking by which very young children simply adopt the other’s view.

“In the first three years of life, children don’t seem to fully understand yet what others think,” added Nikolaus Steinbeis, another co-author from the University College London.

In the study, published in the journal PNAS, the researchers investigated the relations between these brain regions, and the ability of infants to predict others’ behaviour.

They assessed a sample of three- to four-year-old children who watched video clips that showed a cat chasing a mouse.

In the video, the cat watches the mouse hiding in one of two boxes, and while the feline is away the rodent sneaks over to the other box unnoticed.

When the cat returns it is expected to still believe that the mouse is in the first location. As the participants watched the video, the scientists used eye-tracking technology to assess the looking behaviour of the children.

They noticed that both the three- and four-year-olds expected the cat to go to the box where the mouse had originally been, meaning they had predicted correctly where the cat was going to search for the mouse based on the feline’s belief.

When the researchers asked the children directly where the cat will search for the mouse, instead of looking at their gaze, the three-year-olds answered incorrectly, but the four-years-olds succeeded, the study noted.

They used to control conditions to ensure that this was not because the younger children misunderstood the question.

According to scientists, different brain structures were involved in verbal reasoning about what the cat thought, as opposed to non-verbal predictions of how the feline was going to act.

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