MONDAY, Oct. 11 (HealthDay News) -- If you want to leave your
dog home alone without having to worry about chewed furniture or
never-ending barking, you'd better hope your dog knows how to look
at the sunny side of life.
Dogs that showed pessimistic-like behaviors in a recent study
were more likely to become distressed and anxious when left alone
and to show they were upset by barking, jumping on furniture,
scratching at the door and repetitive behaviors. Optimistic dogs,
on the other hand, were more relaxed and better behaved when on
The study is published in the Oct. 12 issue of
To test dogs' propensity for separation anxiety-related
behaviors, researchers played with each of 24 dogs recently sent to
shelters in a room for 20 minutes. The next day, they took each dog
back to the room, then left the animal alone.
For the next five minutes, researchers videotaped the dog's
behavior, looking for signs of anxiety such as barking, jumping on
furniture or scratching at the door.
Researchers then taught the dogs to expect that when a bowl was
placed at a specific location in a room, the bowl would be full of
food. When the bowl was placed in another location, it would be
Afterward, researchers moved the bowl around the room, each time
putting it in an ambiguous location where a dog couldn't know for
sure if it would contain food or not.
Dogs that ran quickly to the ambiguous bowl were considered
"optimistic." Those that ran slowly toward the food were considered
The videotapes showed pessimistic pooches were more likely to
exhibit separation-related behaviors when left alone, while dogs
that saw life as a glass "half full" were less likely to become
anxious when left alone.
In people, and perhaps in dogs, internal emotional states can
impact behavior and decision-making, said study author Michael
Mendl, a research fellow in the department of clinical veterinary
science at University of Bristol.
Just as depressed people are more likely to think the worst or
to judge ambiguous situations negatively while happy people tend to
look on the bright side of life, dogs may have similar
"Dogs showing signs of separation-related behavior were also likely to make 'pessimistic' judgments about ambiguous stimuli," Mendl said. "Because pessimistic judgments may be related to an underlying negative emotional state, this gives us an insight into the emotional state of dogs showing separation-related behaviors."
Researchers controlled for breed, sex and age of the dog,
olfactory cues and how quickly they learned which bowl contained
the food and which didn't, according to the study.
In training dogs, Katenna Jones, an animal behaviorist and
humane educator for the American Humane Association, said she has
often noticed that dogs that have separation anxiety also show
other signs of high-strung or neurotic behavior, such as being easy
to startle, overreacting to touch or being excessively protective
of toys or food bowls.
Yet Jones said using words such as "optimistic" and
"pessimistic" runs the risk of anthropomorphizing dogs, or
assigning them human-like behaviors and thought processes.
"I'm no fan of the terms 'optimistic' and 'pessimistic.' Instead of optimistic, maybe words like inquisitive, exploratory or energetic would be better," Jones said. "I find dogs that have more confidence, [that are] less anxious and well-socialized tend to be more eager and driven to learn."
It's still fun to think about what's going through your pet's
"Is your dog an Eeyore or a Tigger?" Jones said. "Maybe an Eeyore dog is thinking, 'Oh, there's no sense trying. The bowl is going to be empty.' A pessimistic or depressed person might say, 'There's no sense going to work. It's going to be another bad day'."
If your dog is urinating in the house or destroying household
items when left alone, Jones and Mendl urged pet owners to seek
help from a professional such as a veterinary behaviorist. Dogs can
be taught to cope better with being left alone.
Keep in mind, Jones said, that many dogs exhibiting such
behaviors may not be anxious, but just not getting enough exercise
Added Mendl: "Dogs are very popular pets in the U.S.A. and
Europe. Not only are there a lot of them, but they live very
closely with people and are dependent on us for their care and
welfare. It's also important to understand them to reduce public
health risks associated with dog behavior."
For more on dogs, visit the
American Humane Association.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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