Science Says That Your Dog Will Be Less Fearful with an Active Lifestyle

Science Says That Your Dog Will Be Less Fearful with an Active Lifestyle
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By Nashia Baker, Martha Stewart

Whether your beloved dog has a fear of heights or isn't too fond of loud noises, these are both actually pretty common behaviors. In fact, a behavioral survey by the University of Helsinki observed over 14,000 dogs and discovered that non-social fears like these happen most often based on a dogs' living environment, Science Daily reports.

The university researchers determined that a physically active and trained dog has a greater chance of being fearless, and pet owners can help make this a reality. "Physical exercise has been shown to have a positive effect on the mood in both dogs and humans. As social animals, dogs enjoy doing things with their owners," Emma Hakanen, doctoral student from the University of Helsinki faculty of medicine, said.

It is also common, however, for owners not to train dogs if they notice nervous ticks. "People do not necessarily wish to subject fearful dogs to training situations that are stressful for them," Hakanen said. "This can also make owners less inclined to train with their dog."

The study also revealed that a common fear of loud noises like fireworks were most frequent in dogs of first-time owners—but the biggest discovery was that rural dogs were less fearful than those from the city. "Our prior research on the environmental effects of social fear observed the same phenomena where urban dogs were more fearful than their rural counterparts," Hannes Lohi, veterinary medicine professor from the University of Helsinki, said. "It is interesting that human mental health problems, too, occur more frequently in the city than in rural areas. The ways in which our environment shapes us and our best friend is definitely an interesting topic for further research."

The type of breed also plays a role in the fearlessness of canines. Researchers found that Chinese Crested dogs were one of the bravest breeds while Cairn Terriers are one of the most fearful ones. "The breed-specific differences support the idea that fearfulness is inherited. In other words, breeding choices matter, even without knowing the exact mechanisms of inheritance," Lohi added. "However, this study offers dog owners tools and support for previous notions related to improving the well-being of their dogs. Diverse socialization in puppyhood and an active lifestyle can significantly reduce social and non-social fearfulness."

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