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Researchers Identify Possible Risk Factors For Anxiety & Aggression In Dogs

According to VetStreet.com, as many as 90% of all dog owners report behavioral problems – most commonly in the categories of anxiety and aggression.

Not only do these issues compromise the dog’s wellbeing and their relationship with the humans and other pets in the household, they also increase the dog’s risk of being surrendered to a shelter.

A group of researchers in Northern Italy conducted a study to shed light on how and why behavioral problems develop in certain dogs. Their findings are outlined in a paper called “Factors associated with dog behavior problems referred to a behavior clinic,” to be published later this month in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.

They examined the extensive history questionnaires of 355 dogs referred to a behaviorial clinic, looking for associations between behavioral problems and factors such as size, age and sex. They were also interested in when the problems began, where the dogs slept, mounting behaviors involving humans, and human-canine family composition.

Some of their most interesting findings – as outlined by Psychology Today – included:

  • Small and medium dogs tended to be anxious, not aggressive.
  • Male dogs were mainly aggressive; female dogs were mainly anxious.
  • Dogs adopted from pet shops were all anxious.
  • Anxiety problems began to manifest almost right away (within one week of adoption), while aggression problems emerged several months down the line.
  • Resting place and diagnosis seemed to be statistically related: of those dogs whose history was examined, 20 percent shared the bed with their humans. 78 percent of these dogs were anxious.
  • Anxious and aggressive dogs both showed mounting behavior directed toward people and this behavior was twice as common among anxious dogs as aggressive ones.
  • Finally, and importantly, both anxious and aggressive dogs improved after behavior treatment. Aggressive dogs were much more likely to improve than anxious dogs. And anxious dogs were significantly more prone to surrender to shelters or other people than aggressive dogs.

The researchers were careful to point out that while the findings are interesting and may be helpful in understanding the risk factors for psychological distress in dogs, additional research is definitely needed. The 355 dogs studied were from a very specific group and cannot be used to represent those who were never referred to a clinic; those in a shelter setting; etc.


H/T to Psychology Today


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Written by Dina Fantegrossi
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