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Testing dogs for behaviour in Sweden: Canine temperament – assessment and heritability & How you assess temperament – presented by Åke Hedhammar DVM, PhD & Kenth Svartberg, PhD

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Testing dogs for behaviour in Sweden: Canine temperament - assessment and heritability

It all started by the need to predict outcome a working dog purchased or bred to be trained for military service. Military personnel Axel Paulson and Hilmer Johansson developed a testing scheme to be applied on German Shepherds they were intending to train for military service. The test was secondarily also used for selection of breeding stock in their breeding program. It was later also used for other purposes (e.g police dogs and guide dogs for the blind) and other breeds (e.g., Labrador retrievers). That test is now the basis for current testing (L-tests) of dogs suitable for military service, police and guide dogs.

For further development of the test, ethologists were involved. Work by Kent Svartberg and Erik Wilson are good examples of the scientific validation and analyses performed. The original test was also adopted for testing of first privately owned German shepherds, later also working dogs of other breeds and eventually any breed (Dog Mentality Assessment, DMA) For the later purpose it has recently been further revised to serve a wider range of behaviours and breeds (BPH)

For privately owned dogs it has mostly been seen as a tool for selection of breeding stock. Extensive studies on the heritability have proven its value especially when applied with EBV as presented by Erling Strandberg.

By access to samples from DMA-tested dogs we are now revealing the molecular genetics of behaviour traits. This is done primarily not for testing, but rather for understanding the mechanisms behind variations of behaviour traits in working dogs as well as in other dogs.

How you assess temperament

Research on dog behaviour during the last decades indicates the existence of stable traits in dogs, which has been referred to as temperament or personality traits. Knowledge of personality in dogs have relevance in several areas, from predicting behavioural problems in pet dogs to selection of suitable working dogs. Since many of the revealed traits seem to be genetically influenced, such knowledge can be of great importance in behaviourally based dog breeding. In many cases, dog personality traits seem to be detectable by the use of behavioural tests. In this talk I will share my experiences from general tests such as the Dog Mentality Assessment (DMA) and the more recently developed test Behaviour and Personality Assessment in Dogs (BPH). A number of factors decide the usefulness of data collected in behavioural tests. Aspects such as purpose, feasibility, standardization, reliability and validity are important for the quality of the test. One key point is the behavioural measurement method. Clear definitions of the measured behavior, sound scales and repeated measurements of the underlying traits are of importance. Results from analyzes of data from the DMA and BPH give us insights into some aspects of dog personality. These will be discussed more generally, and reflections will be made regarding differences and similarities of the personality in pet dogs and working dogs.

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