Is Your Dog a Pessimist?

Sad dogAccording to British researchers, if your dog suffers from separation anxiety when left alone at home, his emotional problems may be deeper than you think.

In a study of 24 shelter dogs published in Current Biology, the goal was to determine if dogs with separation-related behaviors have underlying mood disorders which also affect other aspects of their conduct.

According to the New York Times:

They placed the dogs in isolated settings and observed their reactions — many barked, jumped on furniture and scratched at the door.

Then they placed bowls in two rooms. One bowl contained food, while another was empty. After training the dogs to understand that bowls can sometimes be empty, and sometimes full, they began to place bowls in ambiguous locations.

"Dogs that ran fast to these ambiguous locations, as if expecting the positive food reward, were classed as making relatively 'optimistic' decisions. Interestingly, these dogs tended to be the ones who also showed least anxiety-like behavior when left alone for a short time," said Professor Mike Mendl of Bristol University, who led the research.

The researchers concluded the more separation anxiety a dog exhibits when left alone by his owner, the more likely it is he suffers from an underlying, generally negative mood.

According to Professor Mendl, “We know that people's emotional states affect their judgments and that happy people are more likely to judge an ambiguous situation positively.”

"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 said.

These results could prove valuable in understanding how to better help dogs with behavior problems as a way not only to improve their quality of life, but also to reduce the number of troubled canines relinquished to shelters.