Is your dog depressed? How to spot dog depression and why it happens

A recent study found some shocking results on dog depression.

dog depression: Fearful small dog on white background
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Pets love to misbehave, whether it’s making a mess or destroying your furniture. But a recent study conducted in late 2019 has suggested that ‘punishment-based’ training could be making them depressed.

According to the University of Porto, Portugal, dog training methods which involve shouting and scolding your dog, can result in negative consequences later in life such as depression.

Ana Catarina, study leader, used two groups of dogs. The first was dogs from reward-based dog training schools, which use food or play to encourage good behaviours.

The second group used dogs whose training programmes favoured punishment-based methods such as shouting or scolding. The two groups were filmed during their training. The dog’s saliva was tested before and after to look for cortisol, the stress hormone. Their findings showed that dogs from the negative reinforcement group showed more signs of stress, lip licking and yawning.

dog training

However, dogs in the reward-based dog training groups showed almost no change in their cortisol levels. This was the same both when they were in the group and when they were at home with their owners.

Researchers also wanted to examine the long-term effects of the stress induced by punishment-based training. To do this, they measured how the dogs responded to food rewards. They discovered that dogs from the reward-based training ran excitedly to the food bowl, but those from the punishment based training moved much more slowly towards the bowl and we unsure whether to take the food or not.

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Speaking to Science Mag, the researchers said, “Reward-based training may take time, but so what? At least the dog isn’t living in fear or constant stress.” In addition to this, Marc Bekoff, evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado said of the study, "[Punishment] training may seem to work in the short run, but these methods can have future negative consequences. These dogs are living in perpetual stress."

Dog depression: the signs to look out for

Pet experts at grain-free pet food brand Canagan, have revealed the signs we should be on the lookout for:

  • Disinterest: like humans, they may show little interest in things they previously enjoyed
  • Low energy: they may mope around and not enjoy games
  • Excessive licking of their paws
  • Excessive sleeping (whatever is more than normal for them)
  • Less interaction with other dogs
  • A change in eating habits
  • Flattening of the ears

Lucy Buglass is a Digital Writer specialising in TV, film and lifestyle content and has written for What's On TV, GoodtoKnow and She's passionate about entertainment and spends most of her free time watching Netflix series, BBC dramas, or going to the cinema to catch the latest film releases. In her spare time, she writes film and television reviews for JumpCut Online and her own blog, Lucy Goes To Hollywood.