Dogs living in urban environments have more social fearfulness than their cousins in rural areas. These finding was made by researchers at the University of Helsinki and published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Excessive Fearfulness a Behavioral Problem
Fear helps animals survive in threatening circumstances but when it is excessive, it becomes a behavioral disorder. This excessive fear can impair a dog’s welfare and even weaken the relationship between dog and owner.
Social Fearfulness in Dogs
Social fearfulness is related to a dog’s fear of unfamiliar human beings and other dogs. In this study, the researcher investigated social fearfulness in a database of almost 6,000 dogs. This dataset came from a larger behavioral survey covering almost 14,000 dogs.
Urban Dogs are More Fearful
The researchers found inadequate socialization of puppies to various situations and stimuli had the strongest link with social fearfulness. They also found that dogs that live in urban environments had more social fearfulness than dogs living in rural environments. There were also evidence that social fearfulness was more common among neutered females and small dogs.
“This has not actually been previously investigated in dogs. What we do know is that human mental health problems occur more frequently in the city than in rural areas. However, further studies are needed before any more can be said about causes pertaining to the living environment,” said Jenni Puurunen, one of the study authors.
Fearful Dogs are Less Active
Another factor associated with fearfulness was activity. Dogs that were more fearful were less active that bolder dogs. Also, owners are less likely to involve fearful dogs in various activities. Owners are simply less active with more fearful dogs. Fearfulness, thus, may have an impact on the relationship between dogs and owners.
Fearfulness Varies in Breeds
Fearfulness also varied significantly among breeds. Spanish Water Dogs and Shetland Sheepdogs expressed social fearfulness the most, while Wheaten Terriers were among the bravest breeds. The Cairn Terrier and the Pembroke Welsh Corgi expressed only little fearfulness towards other dogs.
How This Study Can Help Dog Owners
The results from this study can be applied to help man’s best friend, said the researchers. Owners can be encouraged to socialize their puppies more, keep them active, and give them more diverse stimuli. Also, owners can make more careful breeding choices to significantly decrease social fearfulness in dogs.