Doggy ADHD: New Study

Did you know that ADHD-like behaviors occur naturally in dogs?  It’s true. A new study involving some 11,000 dogs demonstrated that the gender, age and breed of the dog, as well as behavioral problems and certain environmental factors are connected to hyperactive and impulsive behavior and inattention (ADHD).

Study overview

“The research group collected data on more than 11,000 dogs by conducting an extensive behavioral survey. Hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention were examined using questions based on a survey utilized in human ADHD research. The goal of the study was to identify environmental factors underlying canine ADHD-like behavior and potential links to other behavioral traits.

The dog’s age and gender as well as the owner’s experience of dogs make a difference

“We found that hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention were more common in young dogs and male dogs. Corresponding observations relating to age and gender in connection with ADHD have been made in humans too.”

-Jenni Puurunen, Ph.D., researcher

Dogs left alone were more likely to have ADHD

Dogs who spent more time alone at home daily were more hyperactive, impulsive and inattentive than dogs who spent less time on their own.

“As social animals, dogs can get frustrated and stressed when they are alone, which can be released as hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. It may be that dogs who spend longer periods in solitude also get less exercise and attention from their owners.”

– Sini Sulkama, doctoral researcher

Owner experience with dogs linked to ADHD

The researchers discovered a new link between hyperactivity and impulsivity, and the owner’s experience with dogs, as the two traits were more common in dogs who were not their owners’ first dogs. The causality of this phenomenon remains unclear.”

Significant differences between breeds

Breeding has had a significant effect on the breed-specific behavior of different dog breeds. Differences between breeds can also indicate genes underlying the relevant traits.

“Hyperactivity and impulsivity on the one hand, and good concentration on the other, are common in breeds bred for work, such as the German Shepherd and Border Collie. In contrast, a more calm disposition is considered a benefit in breeds that are popular as pets or show dogs, such as the Chihuahua, Long-Haired Collie and Poodle, making them easier companions in everyday life. Then again, the ability to concentrate has not been considered as important a trait in these breeds as in working breeds, which is why inattention can be more common among pet dogs.” -Professor Hannes Lohi, head of a canine gene research group, University of Helsinki

The ADHD link to other behavioral problems

The study confirmed previously observed interesting links between hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention, and obsessive-compulsive behaviour, aggressiveness and fearfulness. ADHD is also often associated with other mental disorders and illnesses. For example, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) often occurs in conjunction with ADHD. In dogs, OCD-like obsessive-compulsive behaviour can appear as, among other things, tail chasing, continuous licking of surfaces or themselves, or staring at ‘nothing’.

Journal Reference: Sini Sulkama, Jenni Puurunen, Milla Salonen, Salla Mikkola, Emma Hakanen, César Araujo, Hannes Lohi. Canine hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention share similar demographic risk factors and behavioural comorbidities with human ADHD. Translational Psychiatry, 2021; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41398-021-01626-x