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Young male dogs are more likely to have ADHD-like ‘mental health’ issues

Border Collie - attentive dog

If you believe that ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) is genuine and some people don’t, a University of Helsinki research study found that young male dogs are more likely to suffer from this condition than other dogs. This is in line with humans. Domestic dogs can spontaneously become hyperactive and impulsive which is how it occurs in humans.

Border Collie - attentive dog

Border Collie – attentive dog. Photo: Pixabay.

The study is intended to better understand ADHD in humans as well as behavioural problems in dogs. The study collected information from 11,000 Finish dogs and worked out their level of hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention.

Young male

The results indicated that hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention were more common in dogs that were young and male and spent more time at home i.e. were left alone. There are also differences between dog breeds which indicated a “substantial genetic basis for these traits” via selective breeding.

Agression and fearfulness

And also, they found that there was an association between hyperactivity/impulsivity and aggressiveness and fearfulness. These sorts of associations are also seen in humans. And that medium-sized and large dogs tended to be more hyperactive/impulsive which is in contrast to previous research which suggested that small dogs are more impulsive.

Dog breed differences – hyperactivity

They studied 20 different breeds and found “considerable differences”. The “worst” (my word, not from the study) dog breeds in terms of hyperactivity and impulsivity were: Cairn Terrier, Jack Russell Terrier, German Shepherd Dog, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Smooth Collie. At the other end of the scale, the best dog breeds which I presume are the breeds which are less likely to be hyperactive and impulsive are: Chihuahua, Rough Collie, Chinese Crested Dog, Miniature Schnauzer and Poodle.

Differences in breeds – inattention

They found that the following breeds had the highest scores on inattention (from that statement I take it to mean that these dog breeds were the least attentive): Cairn Terrier, Golden Retriever, Finnish Lapponian Dog, mixed breed and Wheaten Terrier. In contrast, the most attentive dog breeds were: Border Collie, Poodle, Spanish Water Dog, Shetland Sheepdog and Labrador Retriever. The obvious conclusion is that selective breeding of dogs has an influence on their behaviour through their character. This is pretty obvious because breeders breed from foundation dogs and the character of the foundation dogs go right through the breeding line for years.

And also, as I understand it, breeders share foundation dogs and therefore one dog can influence the behaviour of many dogs of the same breed. That, I suggest, is why you see the differences.

Hyperactivity can be useful

They make the point too, that hyperactivity is a useful trait in certain working dogs such as the border collie. Also, these dogs are easier to train because they’re more reactive and pay better attention to their owner. These sorts of traits are not favoured by many modern dog owners I would suggest because they want a more relaxed and more manageable dog such as the Chihuahua and Poodle.

Smooth versus Rough Collie

They found a rather interesting outcome which is that the Rough Collie is quite different to the Smooth Collie in terms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. They did not fully explain the difference. The two breeds are identical except for the length of their coat.

Exercise and training

They also found that when a dog is not exercised enough they’re more likely to suffer from hyperactivity and impulsivity and inattention. Training also helps to remove these traits. Through training and exercise, dogs can release their desire for activity in a more controlled way. Note: the same for kids?! A big problem with kids who are diagnosed with ADHD is the failure in parenting. The same issue are present in dog ownership.

First versus second dog

Finally, the researchers found that the second dog that owners adopted tended to be more hyperactive and impulsive than the first. It is speculated that owners chose dog breeds that were less active as companions for their first dogs. When they were more experienced they decided to adopt a more challenging dog in terms of their needs for training and activities. Perhaps, and I speculating, the owners failed to meet the demands of their second chosen dog.

Title of study referred to: Canine hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention share similar demographic risk factors and behavioural comorbidities with human ADHD by: Sini Sulkama, Jenni Puurunen, Milla Salonen, Salla Mikkola, Emma Hakanen, C├ęsar Araujo & Hannes Lohi.


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