‘Transmitted over the leash:’ Anxious owners, afraid dogs | Health news


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By Dennis Thompson HealthDay reporter

(Health day)

MONDAY, June 28, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Dog obedience trainer Cindy Leung has a very anxious client who loves a very anxious breed, the Shetland Sheepdog.

“My [human] Students startle at loud noises, “said Leung.” That’s only part of their personality. Loud, sudden noises startle them. Something strange that appears in the area frightens them. She has a really strong startle reflex, and her dogs have a strong startle reflex, and neither of them are doing much of a recovery. “

It’s Leung’s job to sort this out so her client can win obedience competitions, but the situation poses a real chicken-or-egg dilemma.

“Is the dog frightened because my pupil is frightened, because everyone is frightened when she is frightened, because we are all like:”What was that? Oh, it was just a leaf that fell from a tree. OK, ”said Leung. “Is the bitch afraid because she is afraid? Or is she scared because her dogs have been startled in the past and tried to run away? I can’t really tell you, and neither can she because I asked her. “

Animal researchers believe they now have the answer to that question.

A new study recently published in the Journal of Veterinary Conduct, has concluded that dogs pick up and absorb their owners’ nervousness, and this is what fuels anxiety-related behavior problems in dogs.

Co-researcher James Serpell is director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia. He said, “The way dog ​​trainers put it, fear can be leashed, so to speak. If you are a dog owner, you can send that fear message to the dog almost over the leash and the dog can pick it up.” thereon.”

Importantly, the study rules out two other strong possible explanations for canine anxiety problems.

Leung’s student doesn’t make her Shelties nervous by being overprotective and responding to any perceived threat, the researchers said. No evidence was found that such “helicopter” dog parenting caused dogs to become reactive and neurotic.

The researchers also found no evidence that dogs became anxious because their owners used excessively compulsive training methods, which caused their dogs to become nervous.

For this study, the research team analyzed data from more than 1,100 dog owners who took part in an online survey.

The questionnaire collected information about fear, training methods and the protective behavior of humans towards their dogs. The dogs’ fear and anxiety levels and their emotional response to their humans were also assessed through questions to the owners.

Fear and anxiety among dogs did not differ either because of their humans’ training methods or because of their protective instincts.

However, a dog’s fear-related behavior problems were significantly linked to its owner’s self-reported anxiety, the investigators found.

“Dogs have evolved with humans and are extremely sensitive to the behavior of their humans. Dogs constantly monitor their owners and try to question their behavior. Sometimes it seems scary to the dog owner how well the dog seems to anticipate how they will feel and what they will do, “said Serpell.

“In some cases, that’s great. There are many contexts in which it is wonderful to have an animal that can anticipate your thoughts when it comes to training or performing tasks for humans, ”he continued. “But in the context of an owner who is very scared, you can see the downside. The dog picks up this fear and thereby makes it more fearful. Is there a threat to which my owner is reacting? “

In addition, dogs with higher empathy scores were more affected by their owner’s fear, the study authors found.

This makes sense to Leung, as different races deal with stress very differently.

“Some breeds are more prone to this than others,” said Leung, co-owner of Trainers to the Rescue in Cornelius, Oregon. “Labradors are notoriously blind.”

Rescue, puppy mill dogs more vulnerable

After reading the study, Leung said she can get used to the idea that fearful people can create fearful dogs.

“I have neurotic students who create neurotic dogs,” Leung said.

However, the situation is likely more nuanced than this study suggests, Leung added.

For example, dogs adopted from animal shelters or raised in puppy mills are very likely to have a different, possibly more fragile, emotional state than other dogs, Leung said.

Mary Burch, an applied animal behaviorist and director of the American Kennel Club Family Dog, added that codependency problem can go deeper than just feelings. An owner’s emotional state can affect their dog in specific ways and can undermine the dog’s sense of security.

“Worrying and thinking about it is unlikely to affect a dog,” Burch said. “If that worry translates into worry so great that the person won’t go outside, it will affect the dog. There may not be any fun outdoor play sessions or exercise, which is critical to a dog’s mental health. “

Therefore, the ups and downs of a dog owner suffering from mood disorders could seriously disrupt a pet’s everyday life and promote anxiety, Burch said.

“This could mean a dog isn’t even properly fed or if the person doesn’t go into the community because they’re so anxious,” Burch said. “It couldn’t mean shopping, and consequently no dog food either. I once worked with a woman who was in exactly this situation and she fed her dog cereal.”

Serpell sees this connection between humans and dogs as a potentially useful term.

Particularly empathetic dogs, which act as a barometer of their people’s moods, may be able to help troubled people identify and address anxiety, Serpell said. Armed with the right coping tools, a person could use their dog’s cues to better control their own mood – and thereby improve their dog’s life.

“It’s almost like some kind of biofeedback mechanism,” explained Serpell. “Maybe it could help the owner recognize himself when he is feeling anxious and consider why he is feeling anxious, and maybe it will help calm down and feel less anxious. I can see that this is valuable. “

SOURCES: James Serpell, PhD, Director, Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Philadelphia; Mary Burch, PhD, applied animal behaviorist and director, American Kennel Club Family Dog; Cindy Leung, co-owner, rescue trainer, Cornelius, Erz .; Journal of Veterinary Conduct, April 24, 2021

Copyright © 2021 Health Day. All rights reserved.

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