Examining Heart Rate Variability in the Treatment of Aggression Proposal of APDT Foundation

Principal Investigators: Julia Meyers-Manor, Ph.D., Kate Anders, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KSA
Institution: Macalester College


Aggression is one of the leading causes of dog surrender and euthanasia. Inter-dog aggression poses a threat to other animals and leaves owners exhausted and dogs unable to cope while outside of their homes. Understanding and treating aggression in dogs is of interest to shelters, trainers, and dog owners alike. One physiological measure that might serve as an index of aggression is heart rate variability (HRV), which refers to the vagally mediated beat-to-beat change in heart rate. Low HRV has been associated with impaired emotional and behavioral regulation and stress in both humans and animals. Research from our lab (in review) has suggested that HRV is significantly lower in dogs with a bite history compared to dogs without a bite history. A case study of treatment of aggression has also indicated that HRV changes along with behavioral changes (Williams, Borchelt, Sollers III, Gasper, & Thayer, 2003). In the present study, we hope to follow dogs taking group training classes for aggression to measure HRV across the course. Dogs will have HRV recorded and behavioral coding via video tapes during an in-home baseline session, during the first class, the third class, and the sixth (final class), followed by a final in-home session. If dogs show changes in HRV that correlate with behavioral changes, then trainers could use this information to help target and adjust treatments to maximize efficacy and efficiency.