Problem-solving Strategies in Dogs Diagnosed with Anxiety

Different problem-solving strategies in dogs diagnosed with anxiety-related disorders and control dogs in an unsolvable task paradigm
Chiara Passalacqua,  Sarah Marshall-Pescini , Isabella Merola, Clara Palestrini , Emanuela Prato Previde
Accepted 10 May 2013. published online 10 June 2013.


In humans and in other animal species anxiety-related problems are associated with poor performance in different abilities ranging from decision-making, visual attention, learning and memory. Despite the increasing number of dogs showing anxiety-related problems, the relationship between cognitive performance and behavioural problems has not been investigated so far in this species. In the current study 25 adult dogs with a diagnosis of anxiety-related problems and 21 dogs with no behavioural problems were tested using the classic unsolvable task paradigm, to evaluate both independent problem solving abilities and the propensity of dogs to seek human intervention. Results showed that dogs with anxiety-related problems (ARP) took longer to solve the task in the initial solvable trial (P=0.001) and showed more stress-related behaviours in this trial (P=0.037) compared to dogs in the control group (C). Conversely, during the unsolvable part of the task, control dogs exhibited more attention-getting behaviours towards humans (P=0.006), whereas ARP dogs displayed a higher tendency to keep at a distance from the apparatus (P<0.001). These results seem to indicate a reduced proactive engagement with a novel problem-solving task in pathologically anxious dogs and suggest the presence of different coping strategies in anxious and non-anxious dogs giving impetus for further research in this area.

Applied Animal Behaviour Science

PII: S0168-1591(13)00135-4