Research Poster Presentations 2015

FIRST PLACE WINNER: Effects of free versus scheduled feeding on shelter dogs exhibiting food-related aggression.
SECOND PLACE WINNER: Heart Rate Variability and Canine Aggression
THIRD PLACE WINNER: The Development of Object Play in 3 Breeds of Dogs
(Canis lupus familiaris)

Effects of free versus scheduled feeding on shelter dogs exhibiting food-related aggression.

Julie Lyle, Lucas County Canine Care & Control
Susan Kapla, Northern Michigan University
Stephanie da Silva, Columbus State University
Megan Maxwell, Pet Behavior Change

Among shelter dogs, food guarding behavior is the most frequently cited reason for considering a dog unadoptable (Mohan-Gibbons, Weiss & Slater, 2012).  However, the specific variables that affect food-related aggression are not well understood.  Degree of access to food in the shelter environment may be a relevant variable and one of the easiest for shelter staff to modify.  In this study we measured the effect of food access (unlimited access versus scheduled feedings) on the food guarding behavior of dogs. Dogs were assessed using the using the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) SAFER® Aggression Assessment (Weiss, 2012) and those who scored a 3, 4, or 5 on the food bowl component were randomly assigned into one of two groups. Dogs in both groups were exposed to three days of free feeding prior to assessment as well as scheduled feedings in the context of a multiple baseline and reversal design. A third group of dogs that exhibited no food aggression at the initial assessment served as a control group to assess the impact of repeated SAFER assessments on guarding behavior.  Change scores across assessments were compared for each group. SAFER scores for dogs in the experimental groups decreased (i.e., improved) in one situation when free-feeding was implemented. Dogs in the control group showed a small increase in SAFER scores from initial assessment to assessment two, which may be an artifact of the scoring system. Discussion will include follow-up studies in progress and the implications of findings for shelter management.
Mohan-Gibbons, H., Weiss, E., Slater, M. (2012). Preliminary investigation of food guarding behavior in shelter dogs in the United States. Animals, 2, 331-346. doi:10.3390/ani2030331
Weiss, E. (2012, November).   Canine Assessment: ASPCA SAFER Overview.  Retrieved from

Heart Rate Variability and Canine Aggression

Kate A. Anders, Julia E. Manor, Holly C. Miller, & Lydia Craig

Canine aggression affects many, with nearly 5 million dog bites reported yearly in the United States alone. With approximately 1.2 million dogs adopted each year from shelters it is of considerable interest to determine physiological factors that could be targeted for preventative treatments either before or after adoption. One physiological index that has been used in order to measure autonomic nervous system (ANS) function and inhibitory control is heart rate variability (HRV), the beat-to-beat change in the heart rate. Low HRV has been associated with impaired emotional and behavioral regulation in both humans and animals. This study examined resting HRV differences between 11 dogs with a bite history and 11 dogs without a bite history using a Polar H7 heart rate monitor applied to subjects (adult males and females) at rest.  Significantly lower HRV was found in the group of dogs with a history of biting.  These results suggest that aggressive dogs may have physiological differences that reflect ANS dysregulation, which could influence impulse control and thus the likelihood of an aggressive response.  Understanding these differences may be useful in order to develop and assess treatments for aggression.

The Development of Object Play in 3 Breeds of Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)

Karen M. Davis 1,2,+,*, Gordon M. Burghardt1,3, & Julia Albright2
1 Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37920
2 College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37920
3 Department of Psychology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996;
+Author's current position: Education Coordinator, Wolf Park, Battle Ground IN 47920

Play behavior is commonly known to be an important part of normal development yet little supporting evidence into the specific functions of play is available. Object play is commonly observed in dogs, but has received considerably less attention and its early development has not been systematically documented across breeds. Here we examined the development of object play behavior in 40 pups from3 AKC breeds (2 litters of each: standard poodle, vizsla, Welsh terrier) twice weekly from 3-7 weeks of age. While with littermates, individual puppy interactions with each of 5 different toys were documented. Ten minutes of video for each puppy was collected and analyzed using the observer XT program and an ethogram of object-related behaviors.  Breeds differed in the onset and types of object-directed behaviors. Regardless of breed, object interactions started with exploratory behaviors (e.g. approaching and nosing) and transitioned into a more varied behavioral repertoire and longer play duration with age. Breeds differed in onset and duration of play over time. Welsh terriers were developmentally delayed compared to vizslas and poodles. Pups of all breeds had a significant preference for softer, stuffed toys over hard rubber toys at this developmental stage. These findings add to our understanding of normal puppy play, its development, and breed variations, as well as our empirical knowledge of canine development that could aid in predicting future adult dog behavior.

University Leadership Course Goes To The Dogs

Robin Bisha, Ph.D.
Hepzibah Hoffman-Rogers, CPDT-KA

In Texas Lutheran University's course "Leadership for Social Change" up to 20 students per semester learn the basics of positive reinforcement training and communication with dogs to help local rescues improve adoptability and help dogs succeed in their new homes. The course builds on leading dogs to enhance students' skills in leading people.

Our success building a collaboration of community, university, and dogs, suggests how other courses outside the traditional animal sciences could be enhanced by the inclusion of appropriate work with animals. The idea for this project began as a method of opening students' minds to new ways of thinking about leadership by putting them in an unfamiliar situation.

Students are first instructed in the basics of clicker training and dog body language. They work in pairs or groups of three with one dog at first. Later, students have the opportunity to work on their own and/or with more challenging dogs. Students may opt out of anything that makes them uneasy. Student reports on human-dog interactions allow us to make decisions about a dog's continuing attendance at class and also for pairing dogs with particular student trainers.

The training class evolved from the trainer's curriculum for basic skills for owned dogs to suit the needs of dogs in rescue. Our main goals for the dogs are name recognition, attention, greet strangers calmly and confidently, sit as a default behavior, and walk on a loose leash. Dogs get experience with a number of unfamiliar people, as we change trainers two during class sessions.

Students are exposed to a new way of thinking about influence and see the results of application of the reinforcing desired behavior. They also see first-hand how people work in collaboration as individuals, non-profit organizations, animal care, training and control professionals, and elected officials to make desired change in our community, a key goal of leadership in any area of interest.


by Colleen A. Falconer

Virtually no quantitative research has been conducted on dog play vocalizations, although dog owners clearly enjoy dogs' playful nature. Several animal behaviorists have anecdotes of dogs exhibiting panting-like sounds (aka "play panting") when engaging in social play with familiar canine and human play partners and that these sounds differ from typical panting induced by physical exercise. This within-subjects quasi-experimental exploratory study investigates whether pet dogs exhibit a play pant vocalization distinct from exercise-induced panting. Twelve healthy companion dogs varying in breed, sex, and age (up to 5 years) will undergo three conditions in a laboratory setting: dog-dog play; dog-human play; and an exercise control condition designed to induce panting. Dog play will be verified via a canine ethogram. Dogs' sonic vocalizations will be recorded via collar microphone, and ultrasonic vocalizations will be recorded via an audio channel of a video camera. Pant vocalization measures will include mean frequency, duration, intensity, and player proximity at pant onset.

This study is relevant to dog trainers, veterinarians, animal shelters, and applied animal behaviorists as it may provide a new line of applied research on dog communication which may be used to identify and promote positive affective states in at-risk dogs, e.g., dogs that are homeless, behaviorally challenged, undergoing veterinary care, being boarded.

Automated Differential Reinforcement of Not Barking in a Home-Alone Setting: Evaluating a Humane Alternative to the Bark Collar.

Alexandra Protopopova1 & Clive D. L. Wynne2
1Texas Tech University, 2Arizona State University

Nuisance barking is one of the top reasons for dog owners to seek help from a dog trainer or an animal behaviorist. Excessive barking is reported to be a reason for relinquishing a pet dog to the shelter. Current treatments for home-alone barking are limited to the use of collars or devices that deliver aversive consequences in an attempt to punish barking. Even though past research has supported the efficacy of some of these devices, the ethics of these methods are debatable. An alternative to positive punishment for decreasing problem behavior is the Differential Reinforcement of Other behavior (a DRO schedule).  DRO schedules have been shown to be effective in decreasing and even eliminating various problem behaviors in varied human populations. The aim of the study was to develop a humane alternative to the traditional remote devices that deliver punishers contingent on barking. Specifically, we evaluated the use of remotely delivering food contingent on intervals of not barking during the owner's absence. In Experiment 1, five dogs with a history of home-alone nuisance barking were recruited into the study. In an ABAB reversal design, we demonstrated that a contingent remote delivery of food decreased home-alone barking for three dogs. In Experiment 2, we demonstrated that it is possible to gradually lean the DRO schedule resulting in a more acceptable treatment. For two out of three dogs, the barking was eliminated for the full duration of the session. Our results benefit the dog training community by providing a humane tool to combat nuisance barking and, thus, improve the bond between dog and owner and prevent possible relinquishment of the dog to a shelter. 

Dog Signals and Social Cues: Building Better Teamwork with Your Therapy Dog

Patricia Tirrell, CPDT-KA, CRA; Grants and Contracts Specialist, Senior; Duke University; National Program Educator, Pet Partners APDT Member #76636

There are many different types of animal assisted interventions (AAI) that serve a wide range of people from young children to the elderly. Research indicates that after a brief visit with a therapy dog, patients show improvement in their physical and emotional well-being (Braun, Stangler et al. 2009). How do we make sure that the service we ask the dog to provide isn't at too high a cost to the dog?

Research has shown that cortisol levels drop for everyone during visits except the dog. Cortisol is the hormone released in stressful situations. Since the dog's cortisol level increases during visits we know the dogs are experiencing some form of stress (Braun, Stangler et al. 2009). It has been shown that over a three month period as a dog has more visits – especially if the dog makes more than one visit per week - the dog's cortisol level increases accordingly. The research clearly demonstrates that dogs experience some form of stress during visits, therefore it is important to be able to identify their stress signs and be able to help a dog relax when needed.

In addition it is criticial that once stress signs are present, the handler and staff need to know when a visit should be ended or if the situation can be modified in such a way to make it less stressful for the dog. This knowledge benefits the patients, the dogs, the handlers, and the facilities they visit. A relaxed dog is able to engage more with each patient. In addition a dog that is able to remain calm and relaxed during and after visits may have a longer career as a therapy dog.

A variety of therapy dog sessions were photographed in order to create illustrated instructional materials to help people have a better understanding of what dogs may experience during an AAI visit. The focus of these materials is for therapy teams (with dogs), however they may be helpful to anyone who wants to understanding more about dogs.

Braun, C., T. Stangler, et al. (2009). "Animal-assisted therapy as a pain relief intervention for children." Complement Ther Clin Pract 15(2): 105-109.

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