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Dogs Can Be Optimists or Pessimists

Researchers Say Dogs Exhibit Behavior Related to Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety continued...

“Our study suggests that dogs showing these types of behavior also appear to make more pessimistic judgments generally,” he says.

“We all have a tendency to think that our pets and other animals experience emotions similar to our own, but we have no way of knowing directly because emotions are essentially private,” he says. “However, we can use findings from human psychology research to develop new ways of measuring animal emotion.”

It’s known that the emotional states of people affect their judgments, and that happy people are more likely to judge an ambiguous situation in a positive way. And it’s apparently the same with dogs.

“What our study has shown is that this applies similarly to dogs -- that a ‘glass-half-full’ dog is less likely to be anxious when left alone than one with a more pessimistic nature,” Mendl says.

Negative Behaviors

The study shows that dogs that exhibit negative behaviors, such as barking or engaging in “toileting” problems, appear to make more pessimistic judgments in general.

The study is published in the Oct. 12 issue of the journal Current Biology.

Samantha Gaines, DVM, deputy head of the Companion Animals Department at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, says many dogs are abandoned because they exhibit separation-related behaviors.

The new study “suggests that at least some of these dogs may have underlying negative emotional states, and owners are encouraged to seek treatment to enhance the welfare of their dogs and minimize the need to relinquish their pet,” she says in the news release. “Some dogs may also be more prone to develop these behaviors and should be re-homed with appropriate owners.”

The research raises the possibility that some dogs may be more prone by nature to responding anxiously when left alone than others, and that this is related to their general mood.

That’s an important finding, because separation anxiety is common in dogs, and knowing which ones are or aren’t pessimists “is very important for ensuring good dog welfare,” Mendl says.

“Some owners think that dogs showing anxious behaviors in response to separation are fine and do not seek treatment for their pets.”

Visit a veterinarian if you’re worried about your dog’s emotional state.

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