Factors influencing training success in guide dogs and the development of novel behavioural assessments

Blythe, Simon (2020) Factors influencing training success in guide dogs and the development of novel behavioural assessments. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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With demand growing for different types of working dogs, such as police and army dogs, the need to identify accurate behavioural profiling assessment models to aid the selection of puppies and young adult dogs, has never been more keenly sought. The comparatively recent and rapid emergence of the assistance dog sector (assistance dogs are trained to aid disabled persons carry out tasks that will improve their quality of life and independence), has added still further in the quest to find improved selection tests.

The need to identify improved ways of selecting dogs is not only caused by the need to acquire sufficient numbers of suitable dogs for different working and non-working purposes, but also by the need to be as prudent as possible in doing so. With that regard, a test that prevents the selection of unsuitable dogs to a programme, has the potential to save that organisation from wasting significant resources (physical and monetary) on such dogs. Integral to achieving this type of outcome is a need for behaviour tests to be accurate profilers of behaviour and to be predictive in terms of dogs’ future suitability for their intended roles.

The main aims of this thesis have been to design two behavioural assessments to be used to profile and predict the behaviour of potential Guide Dogs. The first assessment was to be for six to eight-week-old puppies and the second assessment was to be for young adult dogs, aged between 12 and 14 months. To meet these aims, five objectives were set to:

1. Conduct a review of relevant scientific literature.

2. Analyse existing guide dog behavioural data.

3. Design questionnaires to gather views from important stakeholder groups.

4. Design a novel behavioural assessment for puppies and evaluate its predictive and profiling value.

5. To design a novel behavioural assessment for young adult dogs and evaluate its predictive and profiling value.

On conclusion of the study the two behavioural assessments had been designed, trialled and evaluated.

It was found that the puppy assessment was predictive with five stimuli being linked with guide dog qualification and withdrawal. Such has been the confidence with the puppy assessment findings that it has been introduced as an operational activity by Guide Dogs. Here it is used to assist in selecting and deselecting puppies and to use the behavioural profile information it generates, to aid the matching of puppies to volunteer puppy-walkers.

For the young adult dog assessment, it was found that, as currently designed, this could not be used to reliably predict training outcomes. However, there were indications that this assessment could be used to provide immediate profile information for trainee Guide Dogs’ behaviour. This could be used principally to reinforce or confirm suspicions or concerns over dogs’ behavioural profiles. This could then be used to ensure that dogs receive bespoke training, maximising their prospects of qualification.

The findings from this study provide an important step forward in the ambition to develop a reliable behavioural test that can be used to accurately profile and predict canine behaviour.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: England, Gary
Harvey, Naomi
Keywords: Behaviour profiling, Predictive testing, Dogs and puppies
Subjects: H Social sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
S Agriculture > SF Animal culture
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > School of Veterinary Medicine and Science
Item ID: 59925
Depositing User: Blythe, Simon
Date Deposited: 31 Jul 2020 04:40
Last Modified: 14 Aug 2020 09:10
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/59925

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