This article provides an update on the ongoing research at the University of Wollongong into dog behavior, dog obedience training, dog socialization and dog communication. I wrote it in 2012 when I was working with the University of Western Australia when they did similar research in their department of Animal Behaviour.
At that time, there was some preliminary work in the Department of Veterinary Behaviour. Some of the work at the University of Wollongong now appears in the prestigious journal Animal Cognition, the journal of the International Society for Behavioral Analysis. The latest issue of this journal has a special edition on dogs and dogs’ behaviors.
Over the past few years, there have been two large-scale studies undertaken to explore the basic theories around the nature of dogs and the development of behavior. The first study involved a total of 100 dogs in New South Wales and the second study involved a total of 80 dogs in the United States.
The studies involved varied with species, including dogs of various breeds, coyotes, wolves, wolves-canids, dogs that had been adopted as pets, dogs taken from shelters, and dogs not previously known to be canids. There was also a range of ages involved. The dogs were aged 3 months to 16 years, and the participants were mainly volunteer raters.
There was no gender bias. The researchers also took into account different levels of canine expertise. For example, dogs which had been trained to assist with searches for disabled people were less likely to exhibit anxious behavior.
The research involved watching the dogs to see if they showed anxious behavior. They were taught by trainers to respond to a sound, a tone, a handgrip, a click of a click-camera trigger, light flashes and stroking. Then they watched and saw if a volunteer would help them out.
In New South Wales in Australia, the study involved 100 dogs that were trained to respond to a sound. The dogs were put in a shelter for up to six weeks. After this, they were tested. The results showed that 84% of the dogs that had been adopted through shelters had shown signs of anxiety, compared with 10% of the dogs that had been trained by trainers. But the researchers didn’t find a clear link between the dogs which had been trained and the dogs that had been adopted from shelters. The dogs which had been trained had not become more anxious.
Then in the United States, the study involved 80 dogs from shelters and 80 dogs that had never been exposed to canine therapy. The participants in the study were tested and the results showed that the dogs that had received canine therapy had lower levels of cortisol and lower levels of adrenaline in their bloodstream. These results compared with those who had not received canine therapy. But the researchers didn’t find that the dogs which had received canine therapy had improved in anxiety.