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Differences in the Search Behavior of Cancer Detection Dogs Trained to Have Either a Sit or Stand-Stare Final Response

By Jennifer L. Essler, Clara Wilson, Alexander C. Verta, Rebecca Feuer, Cynthia M. Otto

Category Journal Articles

Recent literature has demonstrated that dogs have the potential to detect, and communicate the presence of, various human diseases. However, there is a lack of investigation into whether commonplace training differences within the field could influence a dog's behavior during a biomedical detection task. Here we report on the behavior of four dogs trained to alert to blood plasma samples taken from individuals with ovarian cancer. One hundred trials per dog were selected from routine video recordings collected over a period of 13 months. Videos were coded frame by frame to quantify sample checking, alerting behavior, and durations of alert. Dogs had previously been trained to elicit a final response behavior once they had located the target odor. Two dogs had a “sit” response while the other two had a “stand-stare” response. Alert behavior was categorized as true positive (a correct alert to a cancer sample) or false positive (an incorrect alert to biological and non-biological controls and distractors). Hesitations were also recorded, where the dog either checks the sample twice or, spends a longer duration of time sniffing the sample than a true pass without carrying out their final response. Results show individual variation in the total frequency of false alerts elicited. However, the rate of hesitations appears to be influenced by alert style, with stand-stare dogs carrying out 40 and 32, respectively (total = 72) and sit dogs carrying out 7 and 8, respectively (total = 15). The stand-stare dogs had a non-significant difference in the duration of their true and false positive alerts. In contrast, the sit dogs showed a significant difference (p < 0.001), maintaining their false alerts for, on average, two times the duration of their true alerts. Stand-stare dogs increased the duration of time spent in contact with the port when plasma samples were present, whereas sit dogs spent on average 0.3 s in contact with the port regardless of what sample type it contained. These findings suggest that the type of operant response a biomedical detection dog has been trained may influence their sample checking and response behavior.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2020
Publication Title Frontiers in Veterinary Science
Volume 7
Pages 8
DOI 10.3389/fvets.2020.00118
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal roles
  3. Cancer
  4. Canine scent detection
  5. Dogs
  6. Mammals
  7. open access
  8. Working animals
  1. open access