De meest en de minst stressvolle steden voor honden in Amerikaseptember 9, 2020
Source: João Paulo Corrêa de Carvalho/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0
I got a Skype phone call from a colleague and friend who lives in Atlanta. Although most of the phone call was related to an ongoing research project, at one point she asked me about how similar we should expect the personalities to be for dogs born in the same litter. Her question was triggered by the fact that she and her sister (who lives in Boston) bought puppies from the same litter and her sister’s dog seems to be placid, happy and easy-going, while her own dog seems to be frequently stressed and anxious.
There are a lot of possible reasons for the differences in stress levels in any pair of dogs, but at the time when I was asked this question, I had just gotten a note describing a piece of research which suggests that geography, specifically the city in which a dog is living, might be able to predict a dog’s stress level. This research was sponsored by Spruce Natural Laboratories whose headquarters is in Raleigh, North Carolina. The company produces CBD products useful for humans and animals with various stress- and pain-related problems.
The researchers were interested in finding out whether the stress levels in dogs varied in different cities in the USA. The technique they used was indirect, looking at environmental circumstances that might contribute to or reduce the amount of stress. Anybody who follows psychological and sociological research will be familiar with the method. Thus we know that poverty, crime rate, availability or unavailability of social resources, and so forth, are all related to the stress levels of people living in a particular city. Extrapolating from this, we could find all such similar relevant variables and produce a ranking of cities in which we would expect the residents to be most or least stressed. Reasoning in a similar manner these researchers tried to isolate those variables which would likely be stress-inducing or stress-relieving for dogs on a city-by-city basis.
Specifically, they isolated seven variables, some negative and stress-inducing, while others were positive and potentially stress-relieving. Since many dogs have noise sensitivities, they looked at the local legality of using consumer fireworks and also the number of days where the weather was likely to include thunder. Separation anxiety, which is a common stressor, was indexed by determining the percentage of residents who work outside the home (we are talking about normal times, not pandemic conditions). They also developed an index that looked at the number of dog parks per 100,000 residents. Because exercise and stimulation are important in relieving stress in dogs, the researchers measured the amount of parkland as a percentage of the city’s area, and also computed a score of how much walking the dogs were likely to get by looking at the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk to a park. Finally, they looked at the availability of dog trainers per 100,000 residents.
Next, they created a stress-predicting index based on these seven factors. The total possible score that any city could have was 50 (where the higher score equals a higher likelihood of stress). According to the variables that they measured, this is a map of the cities where dogs might be predicted to have the highest stress levels.
Source: Spruce Natural Laboratories, used with permission
I was somewhat surprised to notice that more than half of the high-stress cities for dogs were located in the south and southeast. The popular stereotype is that southern dogs often have a lazy, easy-going existence. According to this data, that is not the case. For example, the highest probability of stressed dogs should be found in Birmingham, Alabama (with a score of 43.3 out of a possible 50 points). This is due to many days in the year with thunder, open laws around fireworks, and only 4% of the land set aside for parks and recreation use. The two states with the most cities in the top 20 for stressed pets were Florida and Texas.
Conversely, we can look at the cities with the lowest scores for potentially stressing dogs.
Source: Spruce Natural Laboratories, used with permission
Once again, I was surprised at the results since many of the largest and most bustling cities in the US had the lowest stress predicting scores for dogs. This current index predicted that the least stressed dogs would be found in Boston, Massachusetts (scoring only 20.8 out of 50 points). Other large cities including San Francisco, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and even New York, all scored under 30 points, placing them among the top 10 cities for the least stressed pets.
To the extent that we can rely on the validity of this research, it could provide an answer to my colleague’s question. She lives in Atlanta, which is ranked number 15 for the probability of having the most stressed dogs, while her sister lives in Boston which is ranked number one for having the least stressed dogs.
It is important to note that these measures are indirect and are based upon measuring variables which should predict stress levels in pets, rather than direct measures of each dog’s stress level. In addition, one can think of a number of other variables, such as the impact of various aspects of lifestyle or nutritional factors, which also could have a major impact on a dog’s stress level. Unfortunately, a lot of these variables are much more difficult to measure on a city-by-city level because of the lack of availability of accessible databases.
Nonetheless, to the extent that the assumptions made by these researchers are valid, I found this data somewhat comforting since it seems to show that people living in big cities can responsibly have dogs in their family without worrying about subjecting their pet to too much stress simply because they live in a large urban center.
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