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Selecting shelter dogs for service dog training

By E. Weiss

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Service dogs are an essential aid to persons with disabilities, providing independence, mobility and improved self-esteem. Because of these proven benefits, the growing use of service dogs is creating a demand and supply crisis. One major cause is the 50% average dropout rate for dogs selected for training. Weiss and Greenber (1997) recently found that a dog, successful on the most commonly used selection test items, was as likely to be either a poor or a good candidate for service work. The experiment presented here evaluated test items developed by the author in 15 years of experience with dogs. The test items were administered to 75 dogs from the Kansas Humane Society. Once tested, the dogs received obedience and retrieval training. The experiment assessed each dog on behaviour over 5 weeks of training versus performance on each selection test item. A subset of the selection items, combined in a regression analysis, accounted for 36.4% of the variance with R=0.603. This research also revealed a reliable test for dog aggression without risking injury to dog or tester. Items for testing included fear, motivation and submission. Another set of selection items reliably predicted the trait of "high energy" commonly described as "high strung." Future research should involve investigating the effectiveness of both cortisol levels and blood pressure in predicting traits to help strengthen the predictive value of the tool and then testing on dogs trained to be full service dogs.

Publication Title Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science
Volume 5
Issue 1
Pages 43-62
ISBN/ISSN 1088-8705
Publisher Taylor & Francis
DOI 10.1207/S15327604JAWS0501_4
Language English
Author Address Department of Psychology, Wichita State University, Sedgwick County Zoo, 5555 Zoo Boulevard, Wichita, KS 67212,
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal rights
  3. Animals
  4. Animal welfare
  5. Canidae
  6. Canine
  7. Carnivores
  8. Developed countries
  9. Dogs
  10. Kansas
  11. Learning ability
  12. Learning capacity
  13. Mammals
  14. North America
  15. OECD countries
  16. peer-reviewed
  17. Pets and companion animals
  18. Service animals
  19. training
  20. United States of America
  21. vertebrates
  1. peer-reviewed