Developing behavioral standards for objective examination of working dogs along the developmental trajectory

Training working dogs for civil or security purposes is based on the evaluation and certification of dog trainers a method that brings a large variability to the assessment of working dogs performance in each phase of sorting, training and qualification throughout their time of service.

Current puppies or adult dogs sorting procedures relies on: genetic background (breed), hereditary background (origin), subjective scaling of the trainer ("better" vs. "worst" dog) and secondary sorting based on the "experience" of the trainer in determining which task is more suitable for the dog.

Our aims are to improve the ability to select and sort each dog from an early age and to establish systematic behavioral profile of Activity, Anxiety and Attention behaviors that are important to a wide range of tasks.

Methods: We used a translational research approach, in which existing behavioral paradigms for rodents were modified and translated into tools for behavioral assessment of dogs. We sampled 50 working dogs that were videotaped while tested. A post-recording analysis was made by a computerized algorithm which was developed in our laboratory. The behavioral standards were implemented along several axes: age, working conditions (day vs. night) and presence of an auditory stressor.

Results:  Data analysis shows that the behavioral parameters for assessing the dog's behavior are stable and follow an age-dependent dynamics. Moreover, there are distinct behavioral characteristics during day versus night conditions. Finally, the behavioral profile at juvenile (training phase) were positively correlated with their performance at adulthood (operational service).

Conclusions: These current findings establish a group of stable behavioral measurements for assessing working dogs performance, which should be implemented during puppies initial sorting and follow up comparing the adult dogs performance during service time. These measurements are designated for a common-ground base between trainers and operational personnel which uses the working dogs.

Authors: Avraham Avital, Salman Zubedat, Inon Maoz, Yuval Eshed, Itay Varkovitzky and Dan Grinstein