Follow-up study: ‘Behavioral and physiological responses in dogs with separation-related behavioral problems’.
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This paper describes a follow-up study based on the original study performed by Inge Hoogendam on separation-related behavioral (SRB) problems. These problems are thought to be common among domestic dogs and are a problem for both the dog and the owner. The most common problems seen by dog owners are destructive behavior, excessive vocalizations and inappropriate elimination. Characteristic of SRB problems is that the problems only occur in the (virtual) absence of the owner and that these problems are most significant within 30 minutes after departure of the owner. As SRB problems can negatively affect the dogs’ welfare, a better understanding of these problems is important. The ultimate aim of this research project is to contribute to the diagnose of separation anxiety. Moreover, this can contribute to the understanding of this problem and ultimately to the improvement and evaluation of welfare in dogs. Physiological and behavioral parameters were objectively measured under standardized testing conditions. Physiological parameters include salivary cortisol concentrations and heart rate variability parameters. This study measured 8 SRB and 2 non-SRB dogs. Data from this study was then combined with the previous study (study 1) for analyses and the total sample is 22 SRB and 11 non-SRB dogs. The dogs were grouped in either the SRB or the non-SRB group based on owner reports. The observation was divided in three phases: table, separation and reunion phase. All phases lasted five minutes. During the separation phase the dog was left alone in the testing room for five minutes. During both the table as the reunion phase the owner was in the same room as the dog. Heart rate parameters were measured continuously throughout the observation by a non-invasive Polar® heart rate monitor. Saliva samples for cortisol determination were taken in the morning prior to the test (home sample), five minutes after the end of the table phase (table sample) and five minutes after the end of the reunion phase (separation sample). Three cameras recorded the dog behavior during the test. Dog behavior was scored a posteriori by trained researchers. In this study only the behaviors displayed in the table phase were analyzed. The results from these combined studies suggest that the behaviors seen during the table phase do not appear to be useful indicators of SRB problems in dogs. Mean heart rate values in SRB dogs differed across phases. The mean heart rate was significantly higher in the separation phase compared to the table phase. In SRB dogs cortisol values were significantly higher in the separation phase sample, compared to the table phase sample. However, the cortisol values between SRB and non-SRB dogs did not differ significantly. The behavior, especially the door-directed behavior, displayed during the separation phase appears to be an useful indicator of the intensity of SRB problems. In SRB dogs the mean heart rate during the separation phase was also significantly correlated with all door-directed behaviors.