All dogs can exhibit unwanted behaviors, as all dog owners know. However, the differences in frequency of these behaviors can vary greatly between breeds. Also, some of these unwanted behaviors can occur simultaneously. These were the findings from researchers at the University of Helsinki.
The researchers analyzed the data in one of the world’s biggest database of almost 14,000 Finnish pet dogs that they compiled. They found that unwanted behaviors occurred in 73 percent of dogs. Noise sensitivity was found in almost one-third of the dogs.
The seven unwanted behavioral traits examined by the group were:
- noise sensitivity, including thunder, fireworks and shots
- fearfulness of humans, other dogs and unfamiliar locations
- fear of surfaces and heights
- inattention and impulsivity
- compulsive behavior
- separation anxiety
Of these traits, noise sensitivity, fearfulness and fear of surfaces and heights were the most common traits. Their findings were published in the journal Science Reports.
Similar to Human Behavior
The researchers also found some new and surprising links between different unwanted behavior traits in dogs. They found a connection between impulsivity, compulsive behavior and separation anxiety. This connection was the first time seen in dogs. In human, a similar connection exists. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) often occurs together with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in humans.
There was another goal in the study. Since humans and dogs are similar in regards to behavior and physiology, understanding dog behavioral traits can help with the understanding of human mental problems. In addition, dogs also share the same complex social environments as humans.
“With the help of this project and data, we will continue investigating how good a model species the dog is in research focused on human mental health problems. Our previous genetic research pointed to the same genomic areas in fearfulness and noise sensitivity,” said Hannes Lohi, senior author of the paper.
Big Behavior Differences Between Breeds
Another major finding was that there were significant differences in unwanted behavior between dog breeds. For example, compulsive staring and light/shadow chasing was seen more in Border Collies but rarely seen in other breeds.
In terms of fearfulness of unfamiliar people, the researchers found a big difference between breeds for this trait. Spanish Water Dog and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier were the bravest breeds by far (18-fold difference), compared to the most timid breed.
Understanding unwanted behavior in dogs can also help the dog owners.
“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. This would improve the quality of life of not only the dogs, but their owners too,” said Lohi.