Pet OwnersScienceVeterinary

Misbehaving dogs more likely to die young, research shows

New research has revealed that dogs with ‘undesirable behaviours’, such as aggression, running away, fighting, over-excitability or barking, are more likely to die at a younger age.

Such behaviours may reflect poor training by owners or even undiagnosed medical conditions – for example dogs that urinate indoors may be suffering from unidentified bladder infections.

The new study, which was conducted by the VetCompass Programme at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) found that 33.7 percent of deaths in dogs aged under three years (roughly 21,000 dog deaths in the UK) were caused by undesirable behaviours.

It was also found that male and smaller dogs were more likely to die from such behaviour than female or larger dogs and certain breeds were hugely predisposed. It is hoped that this research can raise awareness of the most common undesirable behaviours in dogs and encourage owners to improve the health and welfare of their animals through better choices and improved training.

The study found that the most common undesirable behaviours that led to death were aggression (54. percent of deaths) and a road traffic accidents – which may have behavioural components such as straying and poor recall – accounted for 39 percent of deaths.

Crossbred dogs were 1.4 times more likely to die from an undesirable behaviour than purebred dogs. Dogs weighing under 10 kg were also more than twice as likely to die than dogs weighing over 40 kg.

Compared with the Labrador Retriever, the breeds with the highest risk of death from an undesirable behaviour were the Cocker Spaniel (eight times the risk), West Highland White Terrier (5.7 times the risk), Staffordshire Bull Terrier (4.5 times the risk), and Jack Russell Terrier (2.7 times the risk). The Labrador Retriever was chosen as the baseline breed as it is a common and well-known breed. Male dogs were also 1.4 times more likely to die from an undesirable behaviour than females.

Of the dogs that died from an undesirable behaviour, the owners of 12.9 percent had sought veterinary behavioural advice. Behavioural drug therapy was used in three percent, while 12.2 percent had been previously rehomed. Some 76.2 percent of such canines were euthanised, raising concerns for dogs who are put to sleep due to their temperament.

Dr. Dan O’Neill, senior lecturer at the RVC and supervisor of the study, said: “This study is the biggest study ever undertaken on behavioural reasons for deaths in young dogs in the UK. It suggests the importance of good socialisation of puppies by breeders, of sensible breed selection by owners and of careful dog training after acquiring a dog, to ensure that the lives of dogs and owners are fulfilling for all parties involved.

“Dogs with behaviours that their owners find unacceptable are at risk of compromised welfare, either because of their own underlying emotional motivations for the behaviour (e.g. anxiety or fear) or because of how their owners might seek to resolve the problem (e.g. the use of punishment such as beating or electric shock collars). Greater awareness of the scale of this issue can be the first step towards reducing the problems and making the lives of thousands of our young dogs happier.”

Steve Dean, chairman of the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, said: “Training and socialisation are essential components in the development of a happy healthy pet dog. This new paper sheds light on the extent of the situation where dogs end up losing their lives because of undesirable behaviours. All of these can be addressed through adequate socialisation and training.

“We encourage all dog owners to join a reputable training class to prevent and address undesirable behaviour. Socialisation should begin in the first few days of a puppy’s life so we also strongly recommend finding a good breeder who has taken the time to do this and provides good information to guide new owners in the care of their new puppy.”

He added: “We hope that this new research will create awareness of the significant numbers of dogs that lose their lives because they have never been properly socialised or trained.”

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