A study by the University of Helsinki involving 11,000 dogs discovered why dogs have attention deficiency. They determined several factors that can make ADHD more likely in certain dogs. Gender, age, breed, behavioral problems, and environmental factors can lead to hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention.

“Our findings can help to better identify, understand and treat canine hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. Moreover, they indicated similarity with human ADHD, consolidating the role of dogs in ADHD-related research,” says Professor Hannes Lohi, leader of a canine gene research group at the University of Helsinki.

“Dogs share many similarities with humans, including physiological traits and the same environment. In addition, ADHD-like behavior naturally occurs in dogs. This makes dogs an interesting model for investigating ADHD in humans,” said doctoral researcher Sini Sulkama.

Professor Lohi’s research group collected comprehensive behavioral survey data on over 11,000 Finnish pet dogs. They based survey questions on human ADHD research to analyze hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention in the dogs.

The team focused their study on pinpointing environmental factors that can trigger attention deficiency in canines. Also, they wanted to determine any links to other behavioral traits. The study was published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

What the Study on Attention Deficiency in Dogs Revealed

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“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,” says Jenni Puurunen, Ph.D.

Dogs who spent many hours alone each day had more hyperactive, impulsive, and inattentive personalities than less isolated dogs. Sulkama added that dogs can become frustrated and anxious in long periods of isolation since they’re social creatures. Also, they can’t get exercise or attention when they’re home alone, which exacerbates the problem. They tend to release these pent-up emotions as impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity, all symptoms of attention deficiency.

In this study, researchers found a new link between canine attention deficiency and the owner’s experience with dogs. They determined that the ADHD symptoms occurred more often in dogs who weren’t their owners’ first pets. However, scientists still don’t know why this phenomenon occurs. Sulkama suggests one theory about why second or third dogs may exhibit more ADHD symptoms.

“People may pick as their first dog a less active individual that better matches the idea of a pet dog, whereas more active and challenging dogs can be chosen after gaining more experience with dogs,” explains Sulkama.

Certain Breeds Tend to Have Attention Deficiency Disorders

Across all dogs breeds, you’ll notice varying behaviors and personality traits. Genetics plays a huge role in how dogs act and their predisposition to attention deficiency. Professor Lohi explains that breeds trained for work like the German Shepherd and Border Collie exhibit more hyperactivity and impulsivity. But, they also have excellent concentration.

On the other hand, breeders consider a calm disposition beneficial for popular show dogs like the Chihuahua, Poodle, and Long-Haired Collie. Many people adopt these dog breeds as pets due to their easy-going nature. However, Lohi says inattention may occur more often in pet dogs since concentration isn’t as valued as in working breeds.

Among the 22 breeds studied, authors discovered the following:

Highest hyperactivity/impulsivity scores

  • Cairn Terrier
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • German Shepherd Dog
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • Smooth Collie

Lowest hyperactivity/impulsivity scores

  • Chihuahua
  • Rough Collie
  • Chinese Crested Dog
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Poodle

Highest inattention scores

  • Cairn Terrier
  • Golden Retriever
  • Finnish Lapponian Dog
  • Mixed breed
  • Wheaten Terrier

Lowest inattention scores

  • Border Collie
  • Poodle
  • Spanish Water Dog
  • Shetland Sheepdog
  • Labrador Retriever

Dogs with ADHD May Have Other Behavioral Problems

The study confirmed prior research linking attention deficiency symptoms to obsessive-compulsive behavior, aggressiveness, and fearfulness. ADHD often co-occurs with other mental health problems and illnesses, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Canines with OCD-like behaviors may chase their tails, obsessively lick surfaces or themselves, or stare off into space.

“The findings suggest that the same brain regions and neurobiological pathways regulate activity, impulsivity, and concentration in both humans and dogs. This strengthens the promise that dogs show as a model species in the study of ADHD. In other words, the results can both make it easier to identify and treat canine impulsivity and inattention as well as promote ADHD research,” Sulkama explains.

People with attention deficiency and impulsivity have deficits in the frontostriatal circuit. They also have abnormal activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and striatum. Similarly, people with OCD also have abnormal frontostriatal circuit activity, which involves the striatum, PFC, and ACC. In addition to ADHD and OCD, aggressiveness also involves the brain reward system, with neurological pathways linked to the PFC and striatum. Finally, fear and anxiety occur with abnormal activity levels in the PFC and ACC.

Researchers believe the Cairn Terrier would make a fitting model for attention deficiency research. It had a high mean score in hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention, along with compulsive behaviors and aggressive tendencies.

The Academy of Finland helped support the study investigating how environmental and genetic factors influence canine behavior. The European Research Council (Starting Grant), the ERA-NET NEURON funding platform, and the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation also funded the study.

attention deficiency
Final Thoughts: Researchers Discover Why Dogs Have Attention Deficiency Disorder

A new study by researchers from the University of Helsinki determined the cause of attention deficiency in dogs. When dogs don’t get enough attention, exercise, or stimulation, they act out with aggressive, fearful, or hyperactive behavior. Like humans, dogs are social creatures who thrive by connecting with others, exploring their environment, and overcoming challenges. When they spend long hours alone, it negatively affects their mental and physical health.

Researchers believe this study, the most extensive survey-based research to date, will help improve future ADHD research. Perhaps further studies will uncover more about how to prevent or treat ADHD in both humans and dogs.

In humans, prescribed ADHD medicines, a healthy diet, time in nature, meditation/yoga, and exercise can ease ADHD symptoms. Similarly, veterinarians from an animal hospital may prescribe stimulants like Ritalin to improve concentration and prevent dog nervous behavior.