Dog Behavior Studies: Preventing Broken Bonds

by Mary Haight on March 18, 2016

dog behavior studies

Which is most like yours?

Dog behavior studies at the Center for Canine Behavior Studies are focused on putting a serious dent in the reported 1.5 million dogs killed annually in shelters through their Animal Ownership Interaction Study of 2015.

And you can be part of it!

Dr Nicholas H. Dodman, BVMS, DVA, DACVAA, DACVB (TuftsU) and Dr James A. Serpell, PhD (UPenn), world renowned behaviorists, are looking at the bond-breaking behaviors responsible for these deaths as being related to the person’s “emotional or psychological state” (some might hear a mic drop).

A Quick Review

Why do people give up their pets? Most often it comes down to a problem that is beyond the owner’s ability or finances to fix and is the reason the bond between them never solidified or has broken:

  • Aggression
  • Separation anxiety
  • Non-stop barking
  • Soiling habits

While preventive measures like pre-adoption training or free group training after adoption are sometimes offered by shelters with good results, others can’t afford or otherwise make this kind of impact.

dog behavior studies

Dog Behavior Studies, New Questions

Findings from dog behavior studies have resulted in many shelters instituting handling, assessing, minimal training, working to reduce stress levels through various enrichment programs that keep anxious barking and other behaviors to a minimum. But this is only part of the equation.

Even where these measures and more are taken, the question that goes unanswered is how did these problems arise once they are re-homed, what is happening in the environment when the behavior presents, who is involved and how might that be a factor?

Adopters are often unable to relate the problem beyond a simple statement. They may not be familiar with dog body language, or realize that internal and external factors can contribute to the behavior. When they no longer care about the dog, the intake employee/volunteer at the desk doesn’t get much information. Dogs can be deemed unadoptable and destroyed as a result.

dog behavior studies

What did I do?

How Do You Affect Your Dog’s Behavior?

The question of the state of mind of individuals in the family and how they interact with the dog is important to answer and has been the subject of several studies. After 9/11, it was discovered that handler’s PTSD and depression scores predicted separation anxiety, attention-seeking, and aggression in their dogs up to a year later. Owner personality also affects working assistance dogs abilities, as does using rewards vs. corrections in handling, though this last is from unpublished data.

As the largest owner-dog personality behavior study ever to be conducted, Dodman & Serpell will establish how personality and psychological status affects dog behavior which will help owners understand how they influence dogs. How to interact with dogs for positive results will be shared.

You can be instrumental in saving dogs lives by being part of this research! Listen to Dr. Dodman’s video, read about the study in depth, join. You can also help by spreading the word on your social media channels, and/or by becoming a friend of the Center.

Dog behavior studies have done so much to improve the lives of dogs. If you have a favorite bit of understanding gleaned from research findings and feel like sharing, I’d love to hear about it!

32 comments
Sweet Purrfections
Sweet Purrfections

Our pets can definitely sense our emotions.  Thanks for sharing this post.

agirlandherhusky
agirlandherhusky

I agree that owners have a big effect on dogs behavior. Great post. Thank you for sharing. 

Sadie_and_Co
Sadie_and_Co

Great post!  It is so true that most disconnects can be avoided.  Sharing...

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@Sadie_and_Co It's interesting to note how service dogs showed behavior changes when their person has PTSD or is depressed, not so readily controlled as frustration or anger the short-lived emotional states. Thanks for stopping by =)

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ThePlayfulKitty
ThePlayfulKitty

This is really interesting! I think that an owner's personality and emotional state definitely plays into how a pet will behave. My cats are very reactive to my mood swings and they help me to feel better (they are excellent emotional support cats). I can see how an owner's moods could have the opposite effect, though, and cause a pet to be anxious or upset. 

-Purrs from your friends at www.PlayfulKitty.net

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@ThePlayfulKitty Thanks, Robin! Yes, imagine an adopted shelter dog joining a home where people fight as a matter of course, or where one person is aggressive/abusive. How does that affect the dog? This will be a study to follow for updates should they be provided. Thanks for speaking up =)

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FiveSibesMom
FiveSibesMom

Excellent post with great information. I do believe our actions directly affect our pets' behavior from stress to fear to happiness.  This is going to be an interesting study. Looking forward to hearing the result.

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@FiveSibesMom Thanks, Dorothy! I've seen owners affect their dog's behavior in training sessions -- irritability and lack of patience are keenly felt at the other end of the leash. I watched Tashi deal with the death of my mom to whom he was very attached (I was caring for her at the time), and he mourned along with me.This study will be so interesting to follow over the next couple of years! If Tashi weren't 16+ years old, I would join. Thanks for stopping by =)


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dailydogtag
dailydogtag

It is a shame how many dogs have behavior issues because their humans didn't have the knowledge base to prevent them from forming bad habits.

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@dailydogtag I agree, it's so frustrating there are so few resources to help keep pets from being surrendered. Good training works wonders, but this study will help people understand how their own personalities and state of mind influence the behavior of their dogs. Getting a handle on that is more than half the battle =)

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sarcasticdawg
sarcasticdawg

This is a topic close to my heart as one of my dogs, Simon,  has some serious anxiety issues when we are out and about. The rescue where I got him gave me so much misinformation about him because, I believe they just wanted to place him, and as a result, I'm sure I made many mistakes early on.

Years later, we have worked on many of his issues and I have spent a ton of time researching and learning about dog behavior and working to adjust how I work with Simon. It's a slow but incredibly rewarding process. The Dodman & Serpell study sounds fascinating and I will be watching  the video and seeing if Simon and I might be a good fit.

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@sarcasticdawg It is, unfortunately, true that many rescues are not equipped to assess behavior problems beyond obvious observations. It's wonderful to hear you've been working the problem and learning about behavior to help your Simon. the Dodman Serpell study is a wonderful opportunity to be assessed by these experts in their field! Thanks for contributing to the conversation =)

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tenaciouslittleterrier
tenaciouslittleterrier

Separation anxiety is definitely a hard one to fix. We've been working on it since we adopted Mr. N and though he is much better, he is not fully "cured." 

mk_clinton
mk_clinton

Some dogs are surrendered because the human won't correct their own behavior. Giving up on a pet should always be the very last resort.

threechattycats
threechattycats

Great post and can certainly be applied to cats as well.

mattiedog
mattiedog

A very great topic - a lot of people talk about their dog's behavior, but not too much about their part in that behavior. It's a partnership - and very important to understand everyone's role!

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@mattiedog You hit it on the head, Mattiedog! I love all these wonderful studies helping people better understand and respect the life of dogs, their view of the world, and how we impact that. Always good to hear from you =)

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kelly4
kelly4

Great topic. There are many reasons for surrendering pets, some of which you have mentioned above. It can be a difficult decision to make.

pawesomecats
pawesomecats

Those reasons are very similar for cats - toileting issues are the number one reason, cats are surrendered and end up in shelters. 

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@pawesomecats People have little patience. That leads to frustration, which is followed by anger, and before you know it they are back at the shelter returning their pet. I know with cats it's often about soiling outside the box, sometimes a result of early spay/neuter, but box cleaning, age and mental state of the cat can be part of the problem

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