Research Poster Presentations 2014

FIRST PLACE WINNER: Identifying Behavioral Precursors to Play-Induced Aggression Between Pet Dogs in Off-Leash Dog Parks: Updates and New Directions
SECOND PLACE WINNER: Effects of Dog Breed Labeling on Potential Adopter Perceptions & Shelter Length of Stay
THIRD PLACE WINNER: The Relationship Between Dog Owner Anthropomorphism, Use of Training Methods and Owner-reported Dog Behavior

An Operant Treatment of Separation-Related Problem Behavior

Erica N. Feuerbacher1 and Kristy Muir2
1 Department of Psychology, University of Florida, P.O. Box 112250, Gainesville, FL 32611-2250
2 Animal Training Behavior Solutions, Lakeland, FL

Separation-related problem behaviors, such as excessive vocalization, defecation/urination, and destruction are a common problem in owned dogs and is a common cause of relinquishment of dogs (Bailey, 1991). Traditional techniques use a counter conditioning and desensitization treatment.  We hypothesized that owner return is a reinforcer that can be used to shape behavior, including potentially separation-related problem behavior. If correct, it could also be used to shape and maintain appropriate behavior. Thus, we assessed a treatment using an operant approach to separation-related behavior problems by making owner return contingent on desirable behavior. We compared this to using food as a reinforcer to shape and maintain desirable behavior during owner absence. We first video recorded each dog's behavior in a baseline session. Next, dogs were placed randomly into either the Owner Return or Food group. For Owner Return dogs, the owner entered the room contingent on the dog's calm response, monitored via webcam, that was incompatible with behaviors observed in baseline. Across successful trials, we increased the criterion for owner return. We decreased the criterion after unsuccessful trials. For Food dogs, the experimenter triggered a remote dispenser to deliver food contingent on calm behavior. We recorded all sessions and used the dog's behavior as a direct measure of treatment efficacy. Owner Return dogs showed greater improvement than Food dogs. All Owner Return dogs showed an increase in the time alone without problem behavior. The food treatment was largely unsuccessful: all dogs initially consumed the food but stopped eating shortly into the session.  



Effects of Dog Breed Labeling on Potential Adopter Perceptions & Shelter Length of Stay

Lisa M. Gunter & Clive D.L. Wynne
Canine Science Collaboratory, Department of Psychology, Arizona State University
Previous research has indicated that certain breeds of dogs stay longer in animal shelters than other breeds (Brown, Davidson, & Zuefle, 2013; Clevenger & Kass, 2003; Protopopova, Gilmour, Weiss, Shen, & Wynne, 2012) however the exact nature of how breed perception and assignment influences potential adopters' decisions remains unclear. Dog breed identification in shelters is often based upon reporting by relinquishing owner or staff determination according to the dog's phenotype (Hoffman, Harrison, Wolff, & Westgarth, 2014). However research by Voith, Ingram, Mitsouras, & Irizarry (2009) and Voith et al. (2013) have found discrepancies between breed identification assessed by welfare agencies and DNA analysis. Specifically, breed assignment of pit-bull‐type dogs by shelter staff and veterinarians has shown to be inconsistent and an unreliable means of identification with dogs labeled as pit bulls lacking such DNA breed signatures (Olson, Levy, & Norby, 2012).

The present study examines dogs that were labeled as a pit bull-type breed (American Pit Bull Terrier, Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire, Staffordshire Bull Terrier or American Bulldog) and dogs that were phenotypically similar but were labeled another breed or breed mix ("lookalikes") at a limited admission animal shelter. We compared the dogs' lengths of stay as well as potential adopters' perceptions of their approachability, intelligence, aggressiveness, friendliness and adoptability when viewed in photographs.

We found that shelter length of stay of pit-bull-type dogs was longer than that of lookalikes, but perceptions of attractiveness were the same. Given the inherent complexity of breed assignment based on morphology with mixed breed dogs coupled with a negative breed impression with pit-bull-type dogs, our findings suggest that incorrect assignment could affect outcomes of pit-bull-type dogs in animal shelters and may influence adopter preference in ways unaccounted for in previous studies.


Human Perceptions of Canine Cognition Before and After Participation in a K9 Nose Work® Class Series

Brown, Jennifer S1, Chen, Weimin2
1 K9 Sniff Works, West Springfield, MA, USA
2 Baby House Pet Grooming and Training School, Chengdu, China
The aim of this pilot study is to examine human perceptions regarding canine cognition before and after a K9 Nose Work® class series in Beijing, China.  We developed a questionnaire to explore respondent demographics and perceptions of cognition using questions analyzed in Howell et al The Perceptions of Dog Intelligence and Cognitive Skills (PoDIaCS) Survey (2013)*.  PoDIaCS questions belonging to the following cognition subscales were selected: learned problem solving, instinctive problem solving, learned awareness of human attention, deception, instinctive problem solving, and general intelligence compared with humans.  By examining these cognitive domains we anticipate developing a picture of whether or not participation in K9NW™ classes can affect human perceptions of canine cognition.  The K9NW™ methodology was primarily selected because we are highly familiar with the methodology and believe it presents the easiest entry point into scent work for virtually any human and any dog as there is no need for prior training experience or knowledge.  Preliminary data analysis is intriguing and we anticipate this small pilot study will provide us with a solid point to examine the efficacy of expanding the study to a broader set of respondents.  Additionally, we anticipate that the findings may provide a basis to open dialogue regarding whether or not participation in a K9NW™ class could influence perceptions about canine intelligence and cognitive ability in a way that might lead to enhanced welfare outcomes for companion dogs.  This dialogue may prove particularly germane in areas of the world where concepts of animal welfare and enrichment are beginning to emerge on political and ethical landscapes.  *Permission to use cognition questions obtained from Dr. Howell. Howell, T. J., S. Toukhsati, et al. (2013). "The Perceptions of Dog Intelligence and Cognitive Skills (PoDIaCS) Survey." Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 8(6): 418-424.



Identifying Behavioral Precursors to Play-Induced Aggression Between Pet Dogs in Off-Leash Dog Parks: Updates and New Directions

Lindsay R. Mehrkam, Cassandra Vazquez, Taylor Whitley, and Clive D.L. Wynne
Although essential for a dog's welfare, dog-dog play interactions can easily lead to aggression. Furthermore, play-induced aggression may be especially prevalent in limited control settings, such as off-leash dog parks. Unfortunately, play has not received much empirical attention relative to other forms of dog behavior, limiting our knowledge of how and when owners or trainers should intervene during dog-dog play.  In addition, previous research has suggested that experienced owners and trainers have difficulty distinguishing between play and aggression in dogs. There is thus a large degree of variation in conceptions of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate play. Without the knowledge of behavioral precursors of aggression that reliably occur during play, the safety of both dogs and their owners may be jeopardized. The aims of this study were therefore to: (1) determine if there are discrete behaviors that are reliable predictors to play-induced aggression between dogs in off-leash dog parks, (2) to measure the relative likelihood of owners responding to behavioral precursors of play-induced aggression, and finally (3) to gather data on other contextual factors (e.g., breed, size, number of play partners) that may influence the nature of dog-dog play. We found that interdog aggression occurred in approximately 1 in 10 play bouts in public dog parks; in addition, owners intervened on less than 5% of these bouts. The results also suggest that a number of play behaviors and play types are reliable predictors of both play-induced aggression and owner interventions. Importantly, no single behavior predicted aggression from play 100% of the time, suggesting strongly that other contextual factors influence the likelihood that play may lead to aggression. These results will lead to the development of interventions aimed at train and maintain appropriate social play between dogs that can be utilized by owners, trainers, and behavior consultants. Accurately identifying the conditions that lead to welfare-positive play and those that predict aggressive interactions is likely to have a significant impact on the well being of domestic dogs in a variety of applied settings.


Impulsivity and self-control in retired racing greyhounds (Canis familiaris)

Susan McKeon, BSc undergraduate, Happy Hounds Dog Training.
Dissertation Supervisor: Dr Adele Lloyd, Course Manager - MSc and BSc Applied Animal Behaviour and Training

University of Hull, UK
The concept of impulsivity and self-control exercises are widely referred to in dog training literature [1], predominantly in the context of aggressive or predatory behaviour [2].  The Dog Impulsivity Assessment Scale (DIAS) [3] was developed as an owner report/questionnaire to provide an assessment tool for measuring impulsivity in dogs.

An online survey of greyhound owners was conducted during June 2014 using DIAS and breed specific questions.  The aim of the research is to determine whether racing success (competing post-trials) is a predictor of high levels of impulsivity and lack of self-control in ex-racing greyhounds.
Bred purely to follow its impulses, by chasing a lure or hare at a race track; it is estimated that, in the UK, between 8,000 to 10,000 greyhounds retire from racing annually and are then placed in rescue shelters to be adopted as family pets.  Despite the numbers of greyhounds in rescue shelters, there is very little published research on greyhound specific behaviour problems post-adoption [4]. 

Initial survey responses included 940 greyhounds. Dogs were excluded (n = 44) if DIAS was not completed.  Geographic spread of initial survey responses encompasses: 52% UK, 38.2% USA, 2.8% Australia and 7% 'Other'.  Initial responses were weighted fairly equally across gender with 50.4% male and 49.6% female greyhounds represented.  Data are being cross referenced with greyhound racing databases to ascertain racing status of dog and DIAS scores are being calculated. 

Theoretical and practical implications of findings will be presented, with a view to developing an understanding of how an individual greyhound's racing history may affect impulsivity and self-control.  By using a scale such as DIAS it is hoped that this will help prepare shelter staff to develop relevant training and behaviour management protocols to help teach self-control and reduce impulsivity and place dogs within appropriate homes.

1.  Wright, H.F., Mills, D.S. and Pollux, P.M.J. (2012) 'Behavioural and physiological correlates of impulsivity in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris).' Physiology and Behaviour  105  pg 676-682
2.  Fatjó, J., Amat, M. and Manteca, X.  (2005) 'Aggression and impulsivity in dogs.' The Veterinary Journal 169 pg 150
3.  Wright, H.F., Mills, D.S. and Pollux, P.M.J.. (2011) 'Development and Validation of a Psychometric Tool for Assessing Impulsivity in the Domestic Dog (Canis familiaris).'  International Journal of Comparative Psychology 24 pg 210-225
4.  Elliot, R. et al. (2010)  'The Greyhound Adoption Programme (GAP) in Australia and New Zealand: A survey of owners' experiences with their greyhounds one month after adoption.'  Applied Animal Behaviour Science 124 pg 121-135


Relationship between Owner-Reported Use of Aversives and Appetitives and Owner-Reported Cooperative and Problem Behaviors in Pet Dogs (Canis familiaris)

Jessica Beckstrom, Kathryn M. Mason, Kathleen Morgan
Problem behaviors such as aggression and destructive behavior are the primary reason why pet dogs are relinquished to animal shelters. These behaviors often pose a risk to humans as well as to other animals. One factor believed to relate to problem behaviors in pet dogs is the use of training method. Specifically, the use of aversives is believed to contribute to the development of problem behaviors, while use of positive reinforcement is believed to prevent problem behaviors. In this study, dog owners were recruited to participate in an online survey. Survey items included questions about their own dog's behavior, their attitudes towards different kinds of training techniques and approaches to dog management, and questions about the kinds of training methods that they used. Owners' reported use of aversives significantly predicted higher scores of owner-reported problem behavior and lower scores of owner-reported cooperative behavior. Owner-reported use of appetitives significantly predicted higher scores of owner-reported cooperative behavior.  Relationships between individual training methods and reported cooperative or problem behavior were also reported. Results add to evidence suggesting the use of aversives contributes to problem behaviors in pet dogs and that the use of appetitives, such as positive reinforcement, may be useful in reducing problem behavior and improving cooperative behavior between the human and canine. Problem behaviors may develop from use of aversives due to decreased welfare and increased stress. Use of appetitives may increase welfare in animal and thus account for the lack of relationship with problem behavior.



The Relationship Between Dog Owner Anthropomorphism, Use of Training Methods and Owner-reported Dog Behavior

Kathleen N. Morgan1 and Kathryn M. Mason2
1Wheaton College, Norton MA;  2University of Minnesota—Minneapolis
 Anthropomorphism is the ascribing of human thoughts and emotions to nonhuman animals.  Anecdotally, the effects of owner anthropomorphism on dog behavior are generally considered to be negative, since thinking of dogs as humans can lead to interacting with dogs as though they were human.  This might lead to miscommunication between owner and dog, or misinterpretation of dog behavior and thus inappropriate corrective training.  Little empirical evidence, however, has been gathered to support such a view.  In the present study, we set out to determine the relationship, if any, between dog owner anthropomorphic attitudes and owner-reported use of aversive and appetitive training techniques.  We also asked owners about their dog's problem behaviors, if any, and their dog's cooperative behaviors.  Contrary to anecdotal beliefs, owner anthropomorphism significantly predicted cooperative dog behavior, but not problem dog behavior.  Anthropomorphic owners were significantly less likely to report using aversives in training, and significantly more likely to report the use of appetitives.  The less intelligent an owner reported that a dog was, the more likely that owner was to use positive punishment as a training method.  These data are in keeping with previous studies in the human literature showing that the more an individual perceives another as similar to himself/herself, the better that other is treated.  To the degree that more positive interactions between owners and dogs lead to more cooperative dog behaviors, it may be that a little anthropomorphism is not a bad thing after all.

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