There’s a Better Way to Think About Dogs and Anxiety

A recent scientific study offers new insights into the matter

Anxious dog
Dogs get anxious, too.
Izabelly Marques/Unsplash

If you’ve ever encountered an especially anxious dog, it’s likely to have been a memorable experience. Maybe you’ve had or watched a canine that couldn’t bear to be apart from people for even a few minutes, or perhaps you’ve met a dog that was especially nervous around new people. The fact that dogs can get anxious under certain circumstances is a given; what’s less clear is what the best way to address this might be.

In a new article published in The Atlantic (and previously featured in Undark), Ula Chrobak made the case that the best course of action for treating anxious dogs is not too far removed from the best course of action for treating anxious humans. Citing a recent study in PLOS One, Chrobak points to plenty of evidence that treating dogs’ anxiety as a disciplinary issue — rather than a psychological one — is missing the point, and can do far more harm than good.

The study compared two groups of dogs and involved scans from an MRI machine. “In the dog behavior, the amygdala and hippocampus are associated with remembering things and getting aroused, excited and scared,” the scientists wrote.

It’s what comes next that seems especially significant: “Dysfunctions of these regions can lead to anxiety symptoms like more fear, less excitability, less trainability and so on, which are in line with previous human research.” In other words, an anxious dog is going to be harder to train — and getting more forceful with your training as a result could make things much worse.

More Reviews

The paper ends by calling for more research on the subject. And given that CBD treats for dogs are now a thing, the boundaries between how humans treat anxiety and how their canine companions do the same thing seem to be becoming all the more porous.

For the record, I am presently dog-sitting; when I asked the beagles I’m watching for comment, they wagged their tails and gazed longingly at a bag of treats.

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