Dogs exposed to aversive events can become inactive and unresponsive and are commonly referred to as being “depressed”, but this association remains to be tested. We investigated whether shelter dogs spending greater time inactive “awake but motionless” (ABM) in their home-pen show anhedonia (the core reduction of pleasure reported in depression), as tested by reduced interest in, and consumption of, palatable food (KongTM test). We also explored whether dogs being qualitatively perceived by experts as disinterested in the food would spend greater time ABM (experts blind to actual inactivity levels). Following sample size estimations and qualitative behaviour analysis (n = 14 pilot dogs), forty-three dogs (6 shelters, 22F:21M) were included in the main study. Dogs relinquished by their owners spent more time ABM than strays or legal cases (F = 8.09, p = 0.032). One significant positive association was found between the KongTM measure for average length of KongTM bout and ABM, when length of stay in the shelter was accounted for as a confounder (F = 3.66, p = 0.035). Time spent ABM also correlated with scores for “depressed” and “bored” in the qualitative results, indirectly suggesting that experts associate greater waking inactivity with negative emotional states. The hypothesis that ABM reflects a depression-like syndrome is not supported; we discuss how results might tentatively support a “boredom-like” state and further research directions.
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