Anxious dogs can improve their memory by chewing on toys, according to a study
- It is believed that chewing can reduce physiological arousal in anxious dogs
Giving anxious dogs a toy to chew on can help improve their memory, according to a study.
US researchers assessed the performance of 34 Labrador retrievers on a working memory task that required them 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 Dog Behavior Assessment and Research Questionnaire to rate each dog on their “fearfulness level.”
The researchers at Auburn University in Alabama found: “In dogs with high anxiety, increased chewing when they had access to a chew toy was associated with better spatial working memory, while in dogs with low anxiety the opposite was true.”
Chewing is thought to reduce physiological arousal in anxious dogs and help them concentrate, while chewing may cause a distraction in more relaxed dogs.
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
Chewing is believed to reduce physiological arousal in anxious dogs and help them concentrate
Dr. Deborah Wells, a lecturer in animal behavior 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 getting a greater therapeutic effect from chewing than the non-fearful dogs.” – although in the former group, chewing may help reduce cortisol levels and stress.
“For the less anxious animals, chewing may simply serve as a distraction rather than have less of an arousal-reducing effect.”
However, the study found that chewing for long-term memory can help both anxious and non-anxious dogs.
The researchers assessed this by giving the dogs a maze task on a different day than the bucket task.
“We found that dogs who chewed with greater intensity took fewer attempts to relearn a maze when tested soon after,” said the researchers, whose results were published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science.
Dr. Wells said: “The question of why both groups show improvement in memory after more intensive chewing is less clear.
“Although the human literature suggests an improvement in sustained attention with chewing gum – with chewing gum promoting attention and better cognitive performance,” said Dr. Wells.