The use of impulsivity and core affect to optimize the potential selection of working dogs

Brady, Karen L. (2017) The use of impulsivity and core affect to optimize the potential selection of working dogs. PhD thesis, University of Lincoln.

The use of impulsivity and core affect to optimize the potential selection of working dogs
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Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Item Status:Live Archive


Police and military working dogs are highly trained to be able to perform a variety of roles but withdrawal from service due to behavioural problems is an issue (Evans et al, 2007). To achieve optimal field performance there is a need to be able to assess resilience in dogs and understand factors that impact performance, such as arousal and distractibility. Relationships between arousal and performance were examined using a scent detection task in a population of pet dogs and highlighted the challenges in assessing arousal in terms of physiological measures (heart rate variability). This line of enquiry was not pursued further and the focus was shifted to developing methods to assess temperament traits which may be linked to withdrawal from service. A review of published tests that assessed behavioural characteristics relevant to working dogs revealed a lack of reliable methods for assessing behavioural characteristics relevant to working dogs, and unclear predictive ability in terms of service performance outcomes following selection and certification. Working dogs need to be resilient enough to cope with working environments that they are likely to encounter, but also they need to be able to work despite distractions. Impulsivity is relevant to the assessment of distractibility and while questionnaire measures (DIAS, Wright et al, 2011) can be used to assess the trait in dogs, existing behavioural measurement methods for impulsivity require extensive training (Wright et al, 2012). This lead to the development of a simplified behavioural test to assess impulsivity using a spatial discounting paradigm in dogs over the age of 2 years which found that more impulsive individuals travel a shorter distance for a larger reward before switching to a small reward, and less impulsive individuals travelled further. Resilience and distractibility also depend partly on sensitivity to rewards (positive distractions - temptations) and aversives (negative distractions – anxieties) which can be assessed psychometrically in dogs from 10 weeks of age using the Positive and Negative Activation Scale -PANAS, Shepherd and Mills 2002). The PANAS and the DIAS were used to collect data within the UK police and military dog sector and found that police dogs that had been withdrawn from service for behavioural reasons were found to score significantly lower for “Responsiveness” in terms of impulsivity (using the DIAS), and Positive Activation “Energy & Interest” in terms of core affect (using the PANAS) compared to police dogs in active service. In a working dog setting questionnaires cannot always be relied upon so behavioural tests were developed to assess these elements. Dogs with temperament profiles similar to the active working dogs acquired a new task in fewer trials compared to the withdrawn group but task acquisition was statistically similar at retest. These results suggested that it may be the initial learning processes that are important in test performance and may be indicative of individuals at risk of withdrawal from field service. Further information is still needed in terms of military working dog withdrawal and also to establish if the temperament profiles observed in withdrawn dogs are a result of them failing in their work, or if the profile is responsible for their poor performance leading to withdrawal.

Keywords:Working dogs, Dog behaviour
Subjects:D Veterinary Sciences, Agriculture and related subjects > D300 Animal Science
Divisions:College of Science > School of Life Sciences
ID Code:36785
Deposited On:27 Aug 2019 10:54

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