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Development of the attachment bond in guide dogs

By P. Valsecchi, E. P. Previde, P. A. Accorsi, G. Fallani

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This study investigates ontogenetic aspects of attachment behaviour in guide dogs using the Strange Situation Test (SST). Seventeen dogs were tested three times in different periods of the guide dog training program. The first test was carried out when the dogs were 11-15 months old and before entering the training program; the second test took place after 4 months of training; the last test was carried out after more than 1 year of service as guide dogs. Therefore three different human figures were involved in the program: the puppy walker, the trainer and the blind owner. In each test the dogs' behaviour was video recorded and subsequently scored using a 5-s point sampling method; furthermore heart rate (HR) was recorded both before (HR basal average) and during the SST. Results of the present study show that when tested for the first time at the age of 11 months, dogs exhibited an intense play activity and a limited discrimination of the attachment figure: during separation from the puppy walker their attention was directed towards the stranger that could offer comfort rather than to the owner's exit from the room. On the contrary, the same dogs tested when adult, after 1 year of life with the blind owner were specifically interested in regaining contact with their owner despite the presence of another friendly human (the stranger) available for support. The three repetitions of the SST had only a limited impact on dogs behaviour: previous experiences with the room and the procedure of the test did determine a decrease of exploratory behaviour and of puppet fear, but not of the emotional response to separation from the owner. As the heart rate curve was available only for a limited number of dogs cautious conclusions are drawn on cardiac activity: when adult, dogs showed a higher cardiac activation despite a decrement in HR baseline. Overall, the outcome of the present study indicate that a full-fledged attachment is showed when guide dogs reach maturity and that repeated bond breaking is not detrimental to forming attachment later in life.

Date 2010
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 123
Issue 1/3
Pages 43-50
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2009.12.012
Language English
Author Address Dipartimento di Biologia Evolutiva e Funzionale, Universita degli Studi di Parma, viale Usberti 11 A, 43100 Parma, Italy.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal physiology
  3. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  4. Carnivores
  5. Dogs
  6. Education
  7. Guide dogs
  8. Heart
  9. Heart rate
  10. Mammals
  11. peer-reviewed
  12. Pets and companion animals
  13. sampling
  14. training
  1. peer-reviewed