I was reading a story on the website The Globe and Mail written by a reader of the website. She had adopted a rescue dog. She wanted to adopt a confident, non-anxious dog. She found herself with a dog who appears to be almost permanently anxious which dramatically affects his behaviour (and the behaviour of his owner). He barks too much and is fearful of so many different things and circumstances. He is aggressive towards people and unpredictable. Noise in particular startles him. He is on Prozac and other anti-anxiety drugs. How did she get the selection process so wrong? Do shelters decieve customers to get the dogs out of their shelter?
I thought, my god what a dog, and how commonplace is this? So I did a simple Google search and immediately discovered a University of Helsinki study which found that general fear causing anxiety in dogs occurred in 29 percent of the population. The statistics are shocking. Then I thought perhaps it is not shocking. I thought that the percentage of anxious people in society might be similar to that of dogs. It would not surprise me at all if that was the case. Perhaps the big problem is that dogs cannot explain themselves through language whereas of course humans can. This helps to treat humans. Talking therapy is delivered to people. We can’t do that with dogs.
The study researched the behaviours of more than 13,000 pet dogs in Finland. Seventy-two percent of the dogs exhibited traits such as noise sensitivity, fearfulness, compulsion, separation-related behaviour, aggression, fear of surfaces and inattention/impulsivity. Noise sensitivity was the biggest problem with 32 percent of dogs exhibiting the trait (more prevalent in dogs under four years of age). Fireworks (unsurprisingly), triggered anxious behaviour and fear in 26 percent of the dogs. General fearfulness was present in 29 percent of dogs.
Fear of other dogs was found in 17 percent and 15 percent were frightened of strangers with 11 percent frightened of novel situations. Separation anxiety was the least common but occurred in five percent of participants while aggression occurred in 14 percent of the dogs.
Some breeds were more anxious than others. Shetland sheep dogs, mixed breed dogs and Spanish water dogs more often displayed fearfulness compared to other breeds. Mixed breed dogs and the rough collie displayed fear of heights more than other dogs.
The researchers decided that these traits were inherited or to put it another way “behaviour has a major genetic component”. They decided that to reduce anxiety in dogs breeders should select non-anxious animals for breeding.
Concerning to me was the fact that some of the random bred dogs also appear to be very anxious. That must be caused by environmental issues I would have thought compared to inherited problems. Random breeding does what it says on the tin. You do not fix bad traits.
This got me thinking about treatments. I was equally shocked to read that about 10 percent of dog owners give their dogs anti-anxiety medications such as Prozac. It doesn’t surprise me because of the enormous number of anxious dogs there are out there behind closed doors.
It appears that Prozac is very successful. Clearly, what is unsuccessful is the fact that people are in charge of the creation of dogs and they have spectacularly failed to create dogs that fit in with the human world. I don’t think people can accept this. Why isn’t something being done about it? Perhaps something is being done about it.
A danger with Prozac is that people might reach for the pills to give to their dog in order to change their behaviour because their behaviour doesn’t please them. Perhaps a dog’s normal behaviour does not satisfy a lot of dog owners because they have misplaced expectations. Therefore they try and modify their dog’s behaviour through drugs. Does that happen?
Prozac is useful for aggression, separation anxiety, thunderstorm phobia, people phobia, generalised anxiety, compulsive disorders and urine marking.
Separation anxiety appears to be quite a big problem for dogs. It causes lots of stress. Dogs can physically harm themselves and their surroundings. But Prozac doesn’t work for every dog. It can improve a dog’s behaviour but it might not improve it enough for the owner. You therefore have to augment the drugs with more drugs! If the correct dosage is arrived at the improvements can be spectacular they say.
Prozac is also effective for treating obsessive-compulsive behaviours. OCD seems to be an issue with some dogs. There are some downsides for Prozac. It takes a long time to work, about 4 to 6 weeks. There can be side effects. An overdose can cause muscle tremors and serotonin syndrome.
If you are a dog owner and you give your dog Prozac you should keep quiet because there is a stigma associated with dogs on drugs such as Prozac. A lot of people don’t like the idea of giving human psychoactive medication to a dog. Prozac is, though, considered safe and it is hard to overdose a dog on Prozac. One side effect is itching. Another is anxiety, tremors and restlessness or panting if the dose is too high. The dog may have a reduced appetite and lack energy.
Well, I am shocked really. I don’t think the domestication of the dog has been a great success. I don’t think the domestication of the cat has been a great success either. Perhaps I’m being too pessimistic. I just think there should be less anxious dogs out there.
Here’s an interesting version of dog anxiety. This woman wanted her neighbour to limit her children’s activity in her back yard to about 15-20 minutes a day because their activity was disturbing her two dogs. She did not explain what happened but I suspect that the noise of the kids maked her dogs anxious. Noise is a terrible issue with dogs it seems to me. It’s just one more example of dog anxiety and the kind of stress that it builds up in people; both the dog owner and their neighbour in this instance.
Sources: various sites. All painted a similar picture of anxiety in dogs.