Anxious dogs can improve their memory by chewing on toys, study suggests


Anxious dogs can improve their memory by chewing on toys, study suggests

  • It is thought in fearful dogs, chewing may act to reduce physiological arousal

Giving anxious dogs a toy to chew on can help improve their memory, a study suggests.

US researchers assessed 34 Labrador retrievers’ performance on a working memory task, in which they had to remember which bucket a treat had been placed in over a short period of time.

The dogs were given a chew toy to bite for five minutes immediately before the task, and the frequency of bites was recorded by a computer program.

Before the experiment, trainers who had worked with the dogs for at least a month completed the Canine Behavioural Assessment and Research Questionnaire to rate each dog on its level of ‘fearfulness’.

The researchers from Auburn University in Alabama found: ‘In dogs with high fearfulness, more frequent chewing when given access to a chew toy was associated with better spatial working memory, while the opposite was true for dogs with low fearfulness.’

It’s thought that in the fearful dogs, chewing may act to reduce physiological arousal, helping them to focus, while in more relaxed dogs, chewing may create a distraction.

The dogs were given a chew toy to bite for five minutes immediately before the task, and the frequency of bites was recorded by a computer program

The dogs were given a chew toy to bite for five minutes immediately before the task, and the frequency of bites was recorded by a computer program

It’s thought that in the fearful dogs, chewing may act to reduce physiological arousal, helping them to focus

It’s thought that in the fearful dogs, chewing may act to reduce physiological arousal, helping them to focus

Dr Deborah Wells, reader in animal behaviour and welfare at Queen’s University Belfast, who was not involved in the study, said: ‘What may be happening is that the fearful dogs are gaining a more therapeutic effect from the chewing than the non-fearful dogs – with chewing in the former group perhaps helping to reduce cortisol levels and stress.

‘In the less fearful animals, the chewing may simply be serving as a distractor, with less of an arousal-reducing effect.’

The study found that, for longer-term memory, however, chewing may help anxious and non-anxious dogs alike.

The researchers assessed this by giving the dogs a maze task on a different day to the bucket task.

‘We found that dogs that chewed at a greater intensity took fewer trials to relearn a maze when tested shortly after,’ said the researchers, whose findings are published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

Dr Wells said: ‘With regards to why both groups show improvements in memory following more intense chewing is less clear,

although the human literature points to enhancement of sustained attention from chewing gum – with gum facilitating alertness and better cognitive performance,’ said Dr Wells.



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