New Study Finds 75 Percent of Dogs Have Anxiety Disorders (Mine’s One of Them)

anxiety disorders study ella hiding under slipcover

Most dogs — nearly three-quarters of over 13,700 pets observed in Finland, at least — have some kind of anxiety disorder, according to a new study.

Among the most common disorders were fear of noise (which about 33% of the study participants and 90% of my own dogs have had), fear of heights, and fear of strangers (which my very nervous Pit Bull mix Ella definitely has, among many other fears).

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Helsinki, was published this week in Scientific Reports. The largest study of its kind, it involved 13,715 dogs of various breeds and mixes. No dogs were subjected to any testing or otherwise harmed during the study. Their owners were simply asked to complete a questionnaire analyzing the following seven behavioral traits:

  • Noise sensitivity, including thunder, fireworks and gunshots
  • Fearfulness of humans, other dogs and unfamiliar locations
  • Fear of surfaces and heights
  • Inattention and impulsivity
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Aggressiveness
  • Separation anxiety

Interestingly, some breeds were more likely to have certain behavioral traits. Rough Collies, for example, had the greatest fear of surfaces and heights — so don’t expect Lassie to ever rescue Timmy from that well.

Not surprisingly, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, often considered “Pit Bulls” and subjected to unfair breed-specific legislation (BSL) that allegedly keeps people safer, are less aggressive toward strangers than many other breeds that have never been banned, like Border Collies and Miniature Schnauzers. Here’s hoping Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who recently vetoed the city council’s decision to end BSL, takes a really good look at this study.

anxiety disorders in dogs study by breeds
Photo: M. Salonen et al., 2020

The study found that the age of dogs may play a part in their anxiety disorders. Older dogs become more sensitive to loud noise such as thunder. Most of the behavioral issues like tail chasing and inattention were experienced by younger dogs.

So, what does all this mean? For one thing, this could be yet another way dogs can be beneficial for humans: They could help provide a better understanding of what determines our mental health problems.

“In humans, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) often occurs together with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but this is the first time the same has been seen in dogs,” said the study’s first author, Milla Salonen. She told Gizmodo this correlation was possibly the study’s most surprising discovery.

The study results may also be helpful for someone wanting to adopt a purebred dog. “It is important to think about how much you will exercise and do any activities with the dog,” Salonen told Gizmodo. “If you want a dog only as a companion and will not exercise heavily or for long periods of time, it is not advisable to get a working dog, that is, a dog with high energy level.” Good advice.

Photo: That’s my Ella, trying to hide from everything that scares her.

Laura Goldman

I am a freelance writer and lifelong dog lover. For five years, I was a staff writer for i Love Dogs. When that site shut down, I started this blog...because I STILL Love Dogs!