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Early Life Experiences and Exercise Associate with Canine Anxieties

Katriina Tiira, Hannes Lohi 2015

Highlights:

  • Fearfulness in dogs has both genetic and environmental components
  • Fearfulness can be categorized as social (people and dogs) and non-social (loud noises, novel objects)
  • Dogs with separation anxiety and noise sensitivity tend to receive less daily exercise

ABSTRACT

Personality and anxiety disorders across species are affected by genetic and environmental factors. Shyness-boldness personality continuum exists across species, including the domestic dog, with a large within- and across-breed variation. Domestic dogs are also diagnosed for several anxiety-related behavioral conditions, such as generalized anxiety disorders, phobias, and separation anxiety. Genetic and environmental factors contributing to personality and anxiety are largely unknown. We collected questionnaire data from a Finnish family dog population (N = 3264) in order to study the associating environmental factors for canine fearfulness, noise sensitivity, and separation anxiety. Early life experiences and exercise were found to associate with anxiety prevalence. We found that fearful dogs had less socialization experiences (p = 0.002) and lower quality of maternal care (p < 0.0001) during puppyhood. Surprisingly, the largest environmental factor associating with noise sensitivity (p < 0.0001) and separation anxiety (p = 0.007) was the amount of daily exercise; dogs with noise sensitivity and separation anxiety had less daily exercise. Our findings suggest that dogs share many of the same environmental factors that contribute to anxiety in other species as well, such as humans and rodents. Our study highlights the importance of early life experiences, especially the quality of maternal care and daily exercise for the welfare and management of the dogs, and reveals important confounding factors to be considered in the genetic characterization of canine anxiety.

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