2021. augusztus 20.

Age-dependent changes in dogs' separation-related behaviours in a longitudinal study

Researchers at the ELTE Department of Ethology in Budapest observed 32 dogs during separation from the owner and retested them two years later. They found that 41% of dogs were stable, 38 % improved, 16 % worsened in separation behaviour. Old dogs with separation-related disorder (SRD) whined more, showed more vocal stress signals, and tried to escape less from the room. This study, published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, reveals an important link between ageing and separation behaviour as well as emphasizes the importance of testing SRD dogs longitudinally to track their changes.

Separation-related problems are common in companion dogs, caused by the stress that dogs experience when they are separated from the owner. Although the different causes and risk factors of the development of such behaviour problems have been widely investigated, the changes in separation behaviour during a dogs’ life are still a question. “We were curious about how separation behaviour changes over time and how older dogs behave during separation from the owner”- says András Marx, first author of the study, PhD candidate at ELTE Department of Ethology.- “Ageing is a complex phenomenon, which causes changes in cognition and physiological function, so we wanted to assess how which is its influences on separation behaviour”

“In a previous study, we tested how dogs from different ages behaved during a separation test from the owner. The dog was led to a room with the owner, after 1 minute the owner left and the behaviour of the dog was observed for 5 minutes”, - says Tamás Faragó, principal investigator of this research.- “We analysed the behaviour and the vocalizations of dogs, and we found that dogs suffering from separation behaviour showed more stress signals in their vocal behaviour and these increased with age. In the current study, we retested 32 of these dogs 2 years later to detangle the relationship of aging and separation behaviour.”

By studying the same dogs on different occasions, the researchers could track the individual changes of the subjects over time and could compare the structure of their whines on the two occasions. “The importance of this study lies in its longitudinal aspect”,- says Dr. Enikő Kubinyi, the leader of the Senior Family Dog Project, and author of the article.- “We were able to observe the individual changes of our subjects over time. Our results showed that 41% of the dogs were stable over time in their separation behaviour, 38% improved and a showed more separation behaviour”. “Interestingly, says Marx, those “dogs suffering from SRP were the most stable in their behaviour over time, some of them even improved. They tried to escape less than non-SRP dogs. However, regarding vocalisations, we also found that SRP dogs showed an increase in the stress signals of their whines over time and, spent more time passively whining at door, and tried to escape less than non-SRP dogs”.

This study emphasises the relationship between aging and separation behaviour, which seems to be very important in the vocal behaviour of dogs suffering from separation disorder. Furthermore, this is one of the few studies which measured dog’s behaviour over time and sheds light on the importance of longitudinal individual-level investigations of dogs affected by separation-related disorder, to facilitate an early diagnosis and individualized treatment plan of those dogs.

Author: Paula Pérez Fraga  

Original publication: Marx, András, Rita Lenkei, Paula Pérez Fraga, Lisa Wallis, Enikő Kubinyi, and Tamás Faragó. "Age-dependent changes in dogs’(Canis familiaris) separation-related behaviours in a longitudinal study." Applied Animal Behaviour Science 242 (2021): 105422. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168159121002094