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Demographics and Links Among Behavior Problems in Dogs

A new study found that 85 percent of 4,114 dogs had behavioral problems.

A very interesting study by Ian Dinwoodie, who works at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, and his colleagues called "Demographics and Comorbidity of Behavior Problems in Dogs," published in The Journal of Veterinary Science, crossed my desk a few days ago. To be quite frank, I had to look up the word "comorbidity" and learned it "describes two or more disorders or illnesses occurring in the same person. They can occur at the same time or one after the other. Comorbidity also implies interactions between the illnesses that can worsen the course of both." So, this new study is concerned with the presence of behavior problems in a large number of dogs and possible correlations among them. In essence, the study provides insights into the magnitude of owner-reported canine behavior problems encountered by owners.

According to the Center for Canine Behavior Studies, the highlights of this research include.

  • Among 2,480 dog owners and 4,114 dogs, the prevalence of owner-reported problematic behaviors was 85 percent. Data were collected using a public online questionnaire.
  • Male and female dogs were equally represented, a majority of whom were neutered.
  • The most common dogs in the study were Labrador retrievers (382), golden retrievers (138), and German shepherds (132).
  • The two most prevalent acquisition sources for the dogs were rescues (43 percent) and breeders (33 percent), while the least reported source was pet stores (1 percent).
  • Gender, neuter status, origin, and lineage were found to have a notable effect on behavior problem prevalence.
  • Age, neuter status, origin, and lineage were found to have a notable effect on the number of behavior problems per dog.
  • Dogs from rescue situations displayed significantly more behavior problems than dogs acquired from breeders.
  • Neutered males and females were almost twice as likely to exhibit behavior problems as intact dogs.
  • Fear and anxiety-based problems were reported in 44 percent of cases and were the most prevalent behavior problems reported.
  • Aggression was the second most common behavior problem reported (30 percent of dogs).
  • An association was found between owner-directed aggression and maleness.
  • Of note about biting is the high number of dogs (91 percent) who had never bitten a person or another dog. Of the 9 percent who did, almost a third (29 percent) of the biting incidents involved more than one bite.
  • A majority (92 percent) of biting incidents reported were for neutered dogs, with castrated males accounting for 52 percent of the total reported bites, and spayed females accounting for 41 percent.

The results of this study are extremely interesting and important, and the researchers hope that their findings will encourage veterinarians to further incorporate aspects of behavior problem management into their daily work. More importantly, they anticipate that the findings from a follow-up study with owners having problem dogs will make a significant impact in preventing misbehaving dogs from entering the shelter “system” and helping dogs surrendered because of behavior problems escape the “system” through adoption, thus avoiding euthanasia.

Stay tuned for further analyses of the prevalence of behavior problems in dogs and comorbidity. These data will be very useful for humans who live with dogs and also for trainers and veterinarians. The more we know about our canine companions, the better their lives will be, and the better we will be able to form strong and long-lasting bonds with them. This will be a win-win for all.