Dogs, Barking, Whining, And Separation Anxiety
Dogs are one of the most popular companion animals around the world. But in urbanized settings, the demands of human life and dog welfare often intersect and conflict. It’s become more and more common for companion dogs to spend longer and longer periods of time alone while their human companions are not home. Some dogs show a collection of “behavioral extremities” in response to the absence of their human companions. And this collection of behaviors has been dubbed “separation anxiety,” or more recently, “separation-related disorder” (SRD). There are obvious tensions that can arise between dogs and humans if SRD manifests. But most of all, it represents a serious welfare problem for animals. One of the most common ways that SRD is expressed is through vocalizations.
In this study, researchers wanted to compare the vocal responses of dogs with and without reported SRD problems during a short outdoor experiment. Their main question was whether the vocalizations of dogs with reported SRD had qualitative and quantitative differences compared to those without SRD. They used 45 adult family dogs, and determined the SRD status of them through a questionnaire. Then, they set up an experiment where they tied the dog to a tree on a 1.5m lead, and left the dog after a brief sentence such as “Be good, I will be back soon.” The absence lasted for three minutes. The researchers recorded the data using sound recorders and observation.
The results showed that age was the most important factor in separation-induced barking. Older dogs started to bark later and barked less during the absence of their human companion. Surprisingly, they found that excessive barking was actually not the most typical form of vocalization in SRD dogs. Instead, SRD dogs typically and most quickly used the “whining” form of vocalization.
For companion animal advocates, the researchers “emphasize that quickly emerging whining cannot be underestimated as a canine SRD-symptom.” And they further note that “it is an easy to elicit and detect behavioral response amid simple circumstances.” In other words, people can do a simple test such as the one in this study. And they can see if the dog being tested whines. This may be a quick way to determine if the dog may be prone to or suffering from SRD. They note that barking can convey a “wide spectrum of inner states,” while “the emotional background of whines is simpler.” The results may seem simplistic, but they demand further exploration and attention.