Research Poster Presentations 2013

Business Insurers of the Carolinas

We are grateful for the support of Business Insurers of the Carolinas, who is sponsoring the poster awards for 2013..


Award Winners

  1. 1st – Lucinda Glenny – "Effect of Early Enrichment and Stress Related Behavior in Dogs"
  2. 2nd – Lindsay Merkham – "Identifying behavioral precursors to aggression during social play in pet dogs at public dog parks."
  3. 3rd – Victoria Voith – "Comparison of Visual and DNA Breed Identification in Dogs"

All Presentations:

Human Perceptions of Coat Color as an Indicator of Domestic Cat Personality

Delgado, Munera & Reevy
Associations between mammalian coat color and behavior have been investigated in a number of species, most notably the study of silver foxes by the Institute of Cytology and Genetics at the Russian Academy of Sciences. However, the few studies conducted regarding a potential relation between coat color and domestic cat personality have shown mixed results even though many people believe that differently colored cats have distinct personalities. Understanding how humans might perceive personality in relation to coat color may have important ramifications regarding whether cats are relinquished to shelters or adopted from them. In order to assess human perceptions about differently colored cats, we conducted an anonymous, online survey, using a 7-point Likert scale and ten terms describing personality traits that were chosen based on previous studies of animal personality. This survey examined how people assigned these given terms (active, aloof, bold, calm, friendly, intolerant, shy, stubborn, tolerant and trainable) to five different colors of cats (orange, tri-colored, white, black and bi-colored). There were significant differences in how participants in this study chose to assign personality terms to differently colored cats. For example, participants (N=189) were more likely to attribute the trait friendliness to orange cats, intolerance to tri-colored cats, and aloofness to white and tri-colored cats. No significant differences were found for stubbornness in any colors of cats. White cats were seen as less bold and active and more shy and calm than other colors of cats. While survey respondents stated that they placed more importance on personality than color when selecting a companion cat, there is some evidence that they believe the two qualities are linked. We anticipate our findings will be relevant to further study in domestic cat personality and to those who work in animal rescue, particularly in how shelters promote differently colored cats and educate potential adopters.
Keywords: domestic cats, human attitudes, cat personality, coat color, temperament


Jacqueline Munera 

For cats in shelters, coat color may influence a potential adopter's choice of cat, how long a cat stays in a shelter and how likely he or she is to be euthanized, but cat personality is reported as a primary reason for adopters' satisfaction with their cats. Cat personality evaluations may help shelters facilitate appropriate and successful adoptions, while reducing euthanasia and return rates.  Many people have a perception of coat color, particularly tortoiseshell and calico, as a representative indicator of cat personality, while research on the relationship between the two is lacking.  This study utilized behavior assessments and scoring from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' (ASPCA) Feline-ality program to evaluate the behavior of 107 neutered (37 m, 70 f) domestic cats surrendered to a Florida humane society.   The study tested relations between solid coat colors (black, orange, brown, tortoiseshell), solid-with-white coat colors (black with white, orange with white, brown with white, calico), and two aspects of personality: sociability to humans (Sociability), and response to novelty (Novelty).  The mean scores of Sociability and Novelty were not significantly different between the solid coat color group and the solid-with-white group.  Additionally, when groups of solid coat color cats were compared to each other, no significant differences were found for the mean Sociability or the mean Novelty scores.  Coat color should not be used as an indicator of cat personality during adoption.

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Identifying behavioral precursors to aggression during social play in pet dogs at public dog parks

Lindsay R. Mehrkam
Clive D.L. Wynne

Play is not just fun and games. Although essential for a dog's welfare, play interactions can easily lead to aggression. Accurately identifying the conditions that lead to welfare-positive play and those that predict aggressive interactions is likely to have a significant impact on applied animal behavior. Unfortunately, play has not received much empirical attention relative to other forms of dog behavior, limiting our knowledge of how and when to intervene in a play bout between two or more dogs.  Previous research has suggested that even experienced owners and trainers have difficulty distinguishing between play and aggression in dogs. There is thus a large degree of variation in conceptions of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate play. Without the knowledge of behavioral precursors of aggression that reliably occur during play, the safety of both dogs and their owners may be jeopardized. The aims of this study are therefore (1) to determine if there are discrete play behaviors that will escalate to aggression in public dog parks, (2) to measure the relative likelihood of handlers responding to behavioral precursors of play-induced aggression, and finally (3) to gather data on breed-specific, size, and age-related factors in play. In addition, we present data on play behaviors that are most likely to be precursors to owner interventions, and the extent to which such behaviors are reliable predictors of play escalating to aggression. The results of this study will lead directly to a systematic evaluation of behaviors that will predict aggression from social play that can be utilized by owners, trainers, and behavior consultants.

Lindsay R. Mehrkam, M.S.
Ph.D. Candidate
Canine Cognition and Behavior Lab
Behavior Analysis Area

Department of Psychology
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611

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A pilot study examining predictive indicators and suitability of smaller breed chickens for chicken training camps

Brown, Jennifer S1; Fountain, Jade1; and Ryan, Terry1
1 Legacy Canine Behavior and Training, Sequim, WA

Each year animal training professionals continue to flock to chicken training camps around the world to gain more insight into the principles of classical and operant conditioning and to hone their mechanical skills.  Indeed, 'chicken camper' has become a household word amongst many progressive trainers.  Currently, Leghorns are a common breed used during training camps.  These birds, classed as Bantam type are medium in size ranging from 6 to 7 lbs.  They are well suited to training programs in that they are amicable to human handling, eager to work for primary reward, and due to their size they are able to work during multiple short sessions throughout the day without filling their crops.  Both behavior and the ability to remain keen to work over a series of short training sessions throughout the day are important aspects in breed selection process.  Although Leghorns are highly suitable for camps, they are larger birds with powerful legs and wings.  Sometimes the feistier Leghorns can prove challenging for some campers to handle.  In such cases, smaller chickens might prove more suitable.  Therefore, this pilot study was undertaken to examine the efficacy of using smaller breed chickens.  Three smaller breeds were selected based on temperament and size: German Spitzhauben, Egyptian Fayoumis, and Sicilian Buttercup.  A total of 15 two-day old chicks were enrolled in this pilot study; the five chicks from each breed where randomly selected by the distributor.  Although size was a key factor in selection, ultimately the suitability of these breeds for camp(s) resides with their ability to focus on the training tasks presented to them and continued work for primary reward over a series of short training sessions.  To assess overall suitability as well as possible predictors of suitability, the chicks were assessed at various stages during development for tendencies such as: willingness to remain on a training table, taking food from a hand-held cup, following a food cup, and pecking at a shiny object.  Preliminary assessment of the data indicates that at least some smaller breeds are suitable for chicken camp programs and early growth stage behavior may give predictive suitability insight.  However, a more comprehensive study involving a larger cohort would be required before more substantial predictive outcome assessments could be made.

Jennifer Brown

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The Effect of Early Enrichment on Stress-Related Behavior in Domestic Dogs (Canis familiaris)

Lucinda Glenny BA Psychology (Honors), Supervisor Dr. Suzanne MacDonald Chair Psychology Department
York University, Toronto, Ontario, CA


This study investigates the effect of early environmental enrichment on later responses to novel, stressful situations in domestic dog puppies (Canis familiaris).  Five litters of different dog breeds were observed, with participants randomly assigned at birth to control (n = 8, no intervention) and experimental (n=10, enrichment intervention) groups. From weeks 7 to 14 after birth, the participants in the experimental group received additional human interaction, environmental enrichment with stimulus targeting all senses, and small stress induction exercises.   Control group participants received normal handling.  Between weeks 16 and 17 of age, participants were given temperament tests using Therapy Dog Assessment protocols, with stress responses recorded by certified evaluators.   Video capture was utilized in many of the evaluations, for later assessments by outside individuals, both professional and random individuals.  Animals in the experimental group were determined as showing significantly fewer stress reactions than did animals in the control group.  These data suggest that early enrichment can reduce stress-related behaviors later in development in domestic dogs.  The theoretical implications of these findings, as well as the practical applications, will be discussed. 

Lucinda Glenny CPDT
Owner & Lead Trainer
905-477-8092 Training 
905-471-9361 Daycare
Featured on Animal Planet!

Lucinda Glenny

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Breaking Behavior Chains

Debbie McKnight, MS

Below is the abstract from my Master's Thesis.  It was a single-subject design experiment used to investigate a way to break a behavior chain.  I chose to do my thesis on this subject after reading in one of Pam Dennison's books to wait three seconds and/or three behaviors before presenting a reinforcer, so as to not inadvertently build a behavior chain.  The full results and thesis can be found at:

Accidental behavior chains are a common problem in dog training.  Many handlers inadvertently reinforce undesirable behaviors.  The behavior analytic literature already contains articles describing methods of breaking chains; however, those methods either are not used in dog training for practical purposes or are ineffective in dog training.  This experiment investigated two ways to break a behavior chain, including extending the chain and introducing a delay into the chain.  The results of extending the chain showed that it is possible to decrease the target behavior using this method, but it was not eliminated in this study.  Adding a delay into the behavior chain resulted in a quick elimination of the target behavior.

Debbie McKnight

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Utilizing Gundog training methods in the rehabilitation of rescue/sheltered dogs

Richard Edge, KCAI, BSc undergraduate  ( Suburban Dog Trainer

Elizabeth Smith, BA (Hons), MSc, CMIOSH Loughborough University

Emma Cooper The Dogs Trust Leeds

Allie Tellier Worcester Animal Rescue League

Gundog training is often seen as an elitist form of dog sport with very little information given to the average companion dog owner.  However the use of Gundog training can be traced to many other dog sports such as Competition Obedience and Working Trails utilizing stimulus control and more importantly a successful human/canine relationship. 

The use of this methodology in regards to shelter dogs was initiated, with the basic Gundog retrieve from the owner's side selected as this not only incorporates stimulus control, but the concept of sharing, sometimes lost with shelter dogs and invaluable to future owners.  Dogs waiting for adoption where trained by shelter staff using a suitable retrieving item, which was exclusive to the dog and was only used for retrieving.  Once the dog was rehomed the new owners were taught the game of retrieving and the retrieving item was given as part of a standard introduction pack.

The feedback given by shelter staff is positive with shelters utilizing basic Gundog retrieves to relieve stress in dogs that otherwise could not be trained using traditional food reward training.  New owners have reported forming stronger relationships with their dogs in a shorter time frame than expected and in some cases forming instant interaction skills.  Another advantage of retrieving was the ability to effectively exercise their dog in suburban locations in short time frames reducing the dog's energy, which in turn reduces the return rate at the shelter.
The basic Gundog retrieve also has significantly reduced the cases of possessive aggression and has encouraged many new owners to investigate further training, with evidence of an increase in interest in other dog sports.

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Inter-observer Reliability of Visual Identification of Mixed-Breed Dogs

Victoria L. Voith1, Rosalie Trevejo2, Seana Dowling-Guyer3, Colette Chadik1, Amy Marder3 , Vanessa Johnson1, Kristopher Irizarry1 , Joseph Marilo1  
1College of Veterinary Medicine, Western University of Health Sciences, Pomona, 91766, United States of America
2Oregon State University, Beaverton, 97006, United States of America
3Center for Shelter Dogs, Animal Rescue League of Boston, Boston, 02116, United States of America

Breed identification of a dog can influence opinions regarding a dog's personality and behavior.  It can also bring the dog and owner under the jurisdiction of private and legal restrictions relating to ownership, management, and disposition of the dog. Generally, statues and legislative regulations pertain not only to purebred dogs but also to dogs that appear to be predominantly or partially a specific breed.  In the United States, there is an increasing trend to obtain dogs from animal shelters/humane societies, and ownership of mixed breeds is increasing compared to purebreds [1,2]. 
The poster depicts 20 dogs randomly selected from a group of adopted dogs that had been identified as mixed breeds by DNA analysis [3,4,5]. In total, 923 people viewed 1-minute video-clips of the dogs and met the inclusion criteria of identifying their profession or dog-related service and having been asked what breed a dog appears to be. 76% of the respondents indicated that their opinions were used to identify breeds for record keeping purposes [4].

There was a great deal of disagreement among the respondents. For only 7 dogs did more than 50% of the respondents agree upon the most predominant breed of a dog they identified as a mixed-breed.  And, the agreed-upon visual breed identification was not reported by DNA analysis for 3 of these dogs.

The poster also indicates the most frequent opinions regarding the predominant breed of each dog and the breed composition of each dog as determined by the DNA analysis.


There are dramatic differences between visual and DNA breed identifications as well as poor agreement among peoples' opinions of the breed composition of dogsThese discrepancies raise questions concerning the accuracy of information about breeds of dog reported in the public media as well as in academic publications and brings into question the rationale for public and private restrictions pertaining to dog breeds.


  1. American Pet Products Association, APPA National Pet Owners Survey 2011-2012 (2011); 
  2. Market Research,  http://www. March 30 2012
  3. 3. V.L. Voith, E. Ingram, K. Mitsouras, K. Irizarry, "Comparison of Adoption Agency Breed Identification and DNA  Identification of Dogs", Taylor and Francis, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, vol.12, no.3, pp.253-262, 2009.
  4. 4. V.L.Voith, R. Trevejo, S. Dowling-Guyer, C. Chadik, A.Marder, V. Johnson, K. Irizarry "Comparison of Visual and DNA Breed Identification of Dogs and Inter-Observer Reliability", American Journal of Sociological Research, vol.3 no.2 , pp. 17-29, 2013; DOI: 10.5923/j.sociology.20130302.02
  5. 5. Mars publications  "The WISDOM Panel™ MX MONOGRAPH", Mars    Veterinary™ Lincoln, Nebraska 68501-0839 (2007). 0nly breeds detected as comprising 12.5% or more of the genome were reported and accuracy of breed identification of F1 crosses was 84 %.

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