Urban dogs are more fearful than their cousins from the country

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social fearfulness in dogs
Photo: Przemyslaw Iciak – 123rf

Inadequate socialisation, inactivity and an urban living environment are associated with social fearfulness in dogs, Finnish researchers have found.

Fearfulness is one of the most common behavioural disorders in dogs. When the fearfulness is excessive and disturbs the dog’s life, it is referred to as a behavioural problem. Excessive fearfulness can significantly impair the dog’s welfare, and it is also known to weaken the relationship between dog and owner.

Social fearfulness in dogs is particularly associated with fearfulness related to unfamiliar human beings and dogs.

In a study by a team at the University of Helsinki—and published in Scientific Reports—risk factors predisposing dogs to social fearfulness were investigated with the help of a dataset pertaining to nearly 6000 dogs. The dataset was selected from a larger set of data, a behavioural survey encompassing almost 14,000 dogs.

Based on the survey, inadequate socialisation of puppies to various situations and stimuli had the strongest link with social fearfulness. The living environment also appears to make a difference, as dogs that live in urban environments were observed to be more fearful than dogs living in rural environments.

Supporting prior research evidence, social fearfulness was demonstrated to be more common among neutered females and small dogs.

Alongside size and gender, activity is another factor associated with fearfulness. Fearful dogs were less active than bolder ones, and their owners also involved them in training and other activities significantly less often. 

Furthermore, significant differences between breeds were identified in the study. 

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