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Anxious dogs can benefit from sporting activities

Scientists have long known that playing sports can be highly beneficial for mental well-being in humans. Now, a team of researchers led by Tufts University and the Center for Canine Behavior Studies in Connecticut has discovered that dogs’ anxiety levels can be lowered by social exercising too. The study revealed that canines suffering from generalized anxiety disorders which took part in sporting activities were more likely to get better.

The researchers examined a cohort of 1,308 dogs with at least one type of fearful or anxious behavior. Of these, 273 were diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, a condition in which dogs – as well as other animals, including humans – exhibit constant or near-constant anxiety regardless of the context, a phenomenon significantly impairing their quality of life.

According to Nicholas Dodman, an expert in Animal Behavior at Tufts, dogs “especially benefit from activities that feed into their natural instincts.” For instance, a sheepdog suffering from anxiety disorders was significantly helped after starting sheep-herding classes. “The dog was a nervous wreck. I suggested to the owner to take him to sheep-herding classes. After several trials herding real sheep he settled right down. His anxious behavior was gone,” Professor Dodman reported.

Other sporting activities that were found to be beneficial for anxious dogs included Flyball (a type of relay race with teams of dogs), agility courses, and “canine freestyle,” in which dogs are taught to dance to choreographed routines with their owners.

“Dog-sporting activities were highly effective for treating generally anxious dogs, with just over three times the odds of improvement,” the researchers wrote. “The reason for the beneficial effect of engaging in sporting activities may be because of the physiological benefits of mobilization but also the psychological aspects of social integration, accomplishment and enjoyment.” 

The study is published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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