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Shyness-boldness predicts performance in working dogs

By K. Svartberg

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Abstract

This study investigates if there are relationships between personality and performance of dogs (Canis familiaris) in working dog trials. Data from 2655 dogs of the two breeds German Shepherd dog (GSD) and Belgian Tervuren (BT) in Sweden obtained between 1989 and 1997 were used. The breeds were chosen because of indications of differences in personality between these breeds, and because both breeds are commonly trained for working dog trials. All dogs were tested in a personality test between 12 and 18 months of age. Using a factor analysis, five factors were extracted: "Playfulness", "Curiosity/Fearlessness", "Chase-proneness", "Sociability" and "Aggressiveness". Further analyses showed that these factors, with the exception of Aggressiveness, were all related to one higher-order factor, which was interpreted as a shyness-boldness dimension. Because of the risk of confounding variables, the influence of the owners' previous experience was tested. This showed that owner experience was related to performance, as well as to the shyness-boldness score. Therefore, only data from dogs with inexperienced owners were used in the later analyses. According to their success in working dog trials, the dogs could be categorized as low, middle or high performing. The results show that the shyness-boldness score is related to the level of performance: high-performing dogs have higher scores (i.e. are bolder) compared to low-performing dogs. This difference was significant in Belgian Tervurens of both sexes and in female German Shepherds. In general, German Shepherds scored higher than Belgian Tervurens and males scored higher than females. However, in well-performing dogs there were no breed or sex differences. This indicates a threshold effect; to reach high levels in working dog trials the dog, independent of breed or sex, should have a certain level of boldness. These results imply that a lower proportion of dogs of shyer breeds are able to reach higher performance levels, compared to dogs of breeds that in general score higher on the shyness-boldness axis. In German Shepherds, a relationship was also found between personality and age of success; bolder dogs reached success at a younger age. There were no differences in Boldness score between dogs succeeding in different types of working dog trials (tracking, searching, delivering messages and handler protection), suggesting that the personality dimension predisposes trainability in general. The results might be applied to the selection of breeding dogs in working breeds and in selecting suitable working and service dogs. A test like the one used in this study can give a description of an individual dog's personality, which also can help matching the dog with adequate training.

Date 2002
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 79
Issue 2
Pages 157-174
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/S0168-1591(02)00120-X
Language English
Author Address Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, S-109 61 Stockholm, Sweden. kenth.svartberg@zoologi.su.se
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Tags
  1. Aggression
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  4. Breed differences
  5. Carnivores
  6. Developed countries
  7. Dog Breeds
  8. Dogs
  9. Europe
  10. Mammals
  11. OECD countries
  12. peer-reviewed
  13. performance
  14. Personality
  15. Pets and companion animals
  16. Scandinavia
  17. sex differences
  18. Social behavior
  19. Sweden
  20. temperament
  21. Working animals
Badges
  1. peer-reviewed