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Can Dogs Be Retarded? (Identifying Mentally Challenged Dogs)

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We all know that dogs can be silly goofballs at times. Of course, some are smarter than others, but occasionally, you come across a dog that seems to struggle with certain things.

They may seem slow to learn simple tricks or commands and have accidents in the house even though they are fully trained.

They might have destructive tendencies when left alone or have trouble socializing with other dogs.

In addition, some dogs may even have a natural tendency to be fearful or anxious. So if your dog seems to struggle with some of these things, you may wonder if they might be mentally challenging.

But can dogs be retarded or mentally challenged?

There’s no scientific definition for a “retarded dog.” However, there are some mental disorders that dogs suffer from that resemble mentally challenged humans. So, the answer is yes and no. Dogs can exhibit mental retardation, but it’s likely not the same genetic disordered humans get. 

In this article, we will explore the details of the types of mental disorders many dogs face. We will also cover how to know if your dog is mentally challenged. And what you can do to help them if they are.

Let’s dive in.

Can dogs be retarded

Can Dogs Suffer From Mental Disorders?

Yes, dogs can have mental disorders and learning disabilities just like humans.

A study conducted at the University of Emory found that dogs have similar brains to humans. Therefore, a dog’s brain can develop very similar mental disorders to a human brain.

Most dog owners misinterpret bad behavior or changes in behavior to anything but mental issues.

Can Dogs Be Mentally Challenged?

Can dogs be mentally challenged

The answer is yes and no. Dogs can be categorized as mentally challenged, but not in the same way as humans.

While a dog’s brain is susceptible to the same abnormalities, some genetic conditions that cause mental retardation in humans are not proven in dogs.

For example, one of the most common forms of mental retardation is down syndrome. However, this occurs from humans are born with 47 chromosomes.

The problem here is dogs have 39 sets of chromosomes while humans have 23, so you can see the issue. Down syndrome cannot be diagnosed in dogs.

However, there are genetic abnormalities that dogs can experience that may appear closely related to down syndrome in humans.

So, a mentally retarded dog is usually a dog affected by a specific health condition, disease, genetic mutations, or trauma that develops into a mental handicap.

Here are some ways a dog could become mentally challenged:

  • Birth complications
  • Neurological conditions or damage
  • Trauma
  • Diseases
  • Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Types Of Mental Disorders In dogs

There are several mental disorders a dog may experience.

You may notice some common overlap between a dog’s mental disorders and humans. This is because many human mental issues share similar symptoms.

Here are the most common mental disorders dogs face:

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Can dogs get mental disabilities

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is an umbrella term for many conditions affecting a dog’s learning ability.

The decline of the dog’s intelligence is due to a neurobehavioral disorder that affects older aging dogs. The decline in intelligence can be so bad it affects the dog’s ability to function properly.

In addition, any behavioral changes due to CDS are not attributable to other medical conditions. Some common symptoms of a dog with CDS are:

  • Disorientation
  • Lack of motivation
  • Memory loss
  • Disinterest in things they used to enjoy
  • May forget where things are

Symptoms usually develop over an extended period of time. It can take months or even years for it to develop.

To treat CDS, a veterinarian will need to perform a test to determine the best plan of action for the dog.

Separation Anxiety

dog anxiety

This is a disorder where dogs become anxious and stressed whenever left alone or separated from their owner.

It can often occur due to changes to their schedule, residence, family, or other adjustments to their environment.

However, knowing exactly why a dog develops this anxiety is usually tough.

You will also see this a lot from rescues or adopted dogs.

Symptoms of separation anxiety include:

  • Urinating and defecating.
  • Barking and howling
  • Chewing, digging, and destruction
  • Escaping
  • Pacing
  • Coprophagia (eat their own poop)

Noise Phobia

dog with noise phobia

This is a phobia dog get when they are afraid of loud noises. This can be from cars, fireworks, fire alarms, thunderstorms, gunshots, explosions, etc.

Anytime a loud noise is heard, a dog with a noise phobia will be in fear.

Symptoms of noise phobia include:

  • Excessive panting
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Burrowing to hide
  • Urinating or defecating
  • Whining or crying

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

The compulsive disorder is defined as the repetitive sequence of activities or movements with no purpose or function.

This can develop from anxiety, illness, or injury. It can develop with age as well due to degeneration.

The most common OCD-related behaviors are:

  • Spinning
  • Tail chasing
  • Self-mutilation
  • Circling
  • Hallucinating (try to bite flies)
  • Fence running
  • Air biting
  • Appetite for non-food substances (like dirt, rocks, or feces)
  • Pacing
  • Staring
  • Vocalizing

Canine Behavioral Issues

Canine behavioral issues result from accidents, injury, or dogs born with these problems. They often stem from mental issues, so I have included them in this list.

It’s easy to just blame a dog’s behavior on bad training. However, sometimes behavioral issues develop in a dog’s brain.

This can often develop in puppyhood when something might have occurred. This can stem from a genetic disorder, depression, issues with growth, cognitive dullness, and other health conditions.

Generalized Anxiety Disorders

dog with anxiety

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by the constant worry about a number of different things.

This could be a new environment, other people, dogs, noises, where their owners are going, etc. It could be anything and everything that causes them to become anxious.

Dogs with GAD will find it hard not to be in a constant state of worry. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon in dogs, but it’s difficult to recognize and often misdiagnosed.

Symptoms of canine generalized anxiety disorder include:

  • Constant signs of anxiety and fear
  • Panting, pacing, whining, or whimpering
  • Impaired quality of life and functioning
  • Hyper-reactivity
  • Restlessness
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Moody
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbance 

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD can be caused by physical or psychological trauma. It’s a severe anxiety disorder that results from experiencing traumatic events.

While it might seem strange, dogs can actually experience PTSD just like humans. An estimated 5% of dogs that worked in war zones return with symptoms of PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD in dogs include:

  • Panic
  • Panting
  • Fearfulness
  • Timid and clinging to owners
  • Aggressive reactions in dogs that were never aggressive before
  • Depression
  • Hyper-vigilance

How To Recognize A Retarded Or Mentally Challenged Dog

dog depression

When it comes to mental illness in dogs, it’s very hard to recognize it.

When it comes to humans, we can speak and verbalize things. However, with dogs, they rarely get diagnosed since symptoms can often be discrete, and they are unable to express their emotions.

This is why it’s vital to track a dog’s changes in behavior. Any sudden or random changes to your dog’s behavior are usually a sign something is up.

 As dog owners, all we can do is watch their behavior and take note of any changes. Certain mental disorders may display more visible signs of an issue, while others may hide under the radar.

Regardless, here are some common symptoms you can find in a dog with a mental condition:

  • Excessive licking or chewing
  • Lack of social interaction
  • Repetitive movements
  • Aggression
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Panic attack
  • Destructive when left alone
  • Obsessive behaviors
  • Sudden changes to a dog’s behavior
  • Forgetfulness
  • Confusion
  • Fearful or anxious
  • Trouble socializing
  • Urinating or pooping inside

Even subtle changes to a dog’s behavior could indicate something. So it’s best to play it safe and take your dog to the vet if you suspect an issue.

How To Prevent Cognitive Dysfunction In Dogs

dog stressed

The best way to prevent cognitive dysfunction in dogs is the same way you would try to prevent any mental health issue. By keeping the dog as happy and healthy as you can!

That means ensuring they get plenty of exercise, mental stimulation, nutritious food, regular vet care, and a happy, loving environment.

In addition, you want to limit the stress in their life. For example, a dog left home in a crate all day could develop issues.

These could be from the stress or boredom a dog could experience being stuck all day.

How Do You Train A Mentally Challenged Dog?

A mentally challenged dog will require more time, patience, and repetition to learn new things.

This makes it that much more important to train them every single day.

They will require behavioral adjustment training to manage their health and wellbeing.

Here are a few tips for training a dog with a mental disorder:

Keep Sessions Short

dog training

Mentally challenged dogs will get overwhelmed rather easily. In addition, they may get confused and frustrated if training is too hard or long.

So the best way to train a mentally challenged dog is to keep sessions short, consistent, and easy. Of course, you want to challenge them, but start with easy tasks and work your way up.

Ends Training Sessions With A Win

Training needs to be consistent and impactful. You want the sessions to make your dog feel like they did good. This will create a positive association with training.

So if they have been struggling to learn the new trick, give them an easy trick to do so you can end your training with a win!

Keep Your Expectations In Check

Remember, a dog with low intelligence will be slower than the average dog. It might take many reps just to figure out “leave it.” So make sure you are setting your expectations.

If you set your expectations too high, you will be disappointed and frustrated with your dog. Of course, this is the last thing you want. 

Your dog can sense your energy and mood, so set your expectations appropriately based on your dog’s intelligence.

Give Them Achievable Tasks

dog being trained

Another thing you want to make sure of is to set achievable goals for your dog.

Do not try to teach them to hide and seek when they can barely do “sit.” Instead, train them on the basics and adjust based on the dog’s individual intelligence.

Mental Retardation Vs. Mentally Challenged: What’s The Difference?

Although very similar, there are some slight differences when you compare mental retardation and mentally challenged.

Mental retardation, also known as “Intellectual disability,” is defined as an individual with significantly below average Intellectual functioning.

This is measured with an IQ score in humans and is often caused by genetic factors.

A mentally challenged individual struggles to learn how to do certain things but is not measured with IQ. This is because they have a low intelligence from brain injury or disease.

Both represent a dog with a lower level of intelligence. One comes from genetic factors and the other stems from an injury or disease.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

Can Dogs Be Autistic?

As of right now, most scientific literature points towards it being unknown if dogs can be autistic. However, some research has found that autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) can occur in dogs, but it’s called canine dysfunctional behavior (CDB).

Can A Dog Become Psychotic?

It’s very rare for a dog to become psychotic. You will not often find a dog that is just naturally this way. Psychosis is usually seen in canines due to a drug overdose, brain trauma, or disease like rabies.

Final Thoughts

So can dogs have mental disorders like humans?

Yes! Dogs can be mentally challenged in a number of ways. For example, they can experience crippling anxiety disorders, mental disabilities, genetic retardation, and other issues that would categorize them as mentally challenged.

Though a dog’s mental retardation or disabilities may differ from humans, there are many overlapping symptoms.

The best thing you can do for a dog that seems a little slow or mentally challenged is to be supportive and patient with them. In some cases, if they appear in distress, medication might be the answer to help put them at ease.

If your dog is mentally challenged, your vet is the best person to talk to about your dog’s symptoms so they can give you the best treatment plan moving forward.

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