Analysis of "Development and Validation of a Questionnaire for Measuring Behavior and Temperament Traits in Pet Dogs"

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Original study by J. Serpell and Y. Hsu, analysis written according to Intel Science regulations.

Introduction

Behavioral problems are among the most common reasons for the euthanasia of pet dogs in the United States and Europe. Of all dogs placed in animal shelters by their owners, 17 to 25% were given up because of problematic behavior. Many other dogs suffer from less severe but still undesirable behavioral disorders. It is thought that this issue might diminish if there were a method of screening for and categorizing behavioral problems in pet dogs. Currently there is no way to do this without an intrusive study by a professional. Owners are often reluctant to screen their dogs because of the inconvenience involved. This study sought to produce and validate a simple and accurate method to screen for and categorize behavioral problems in dogs.

Review of Literature

Companion Animals in Society. 1988. This study describes some of the ways in which animals and their owners interact with society, including dogs with problematic behaviors.

Companion Dog Temperament Traits. 1998. This study describes several potentially measurable traits of companion dogs, including some common problems.

Behavioral Testing of Dogs in Animal Shelters to Predict Problem Behavior. 1991. This study attempted to create a test useable to screen dogs for behavioral problems, but it had to be administered by a professional behaviorist.

Development and Validation of a Novel Method for Evaluating Behavior and Temperament in Guide Dogs. 2001. This study formulated a questionnaire that screened dogs for their suitability as guide dogs.

Hypothesis

There are several reasons that prior to this study there were no methods of accurately but simply determining problem behaviors. There is no single system for classifying dog behaviors, which has led to difficulty producing easily understood screening results. None of the many systems that do exist are based upon analyses of behavioral and temperamental traits; rather, they rely on subjective interpretations by humans of various clinical signs. In addition, there have not been any tests that can be administered non-intrusively in the dog's natural environment. Minimizing intrusion is vital, because when assessing the dog's normal behavior, it is essential that the dog is comfortably in its regular environment. This study uses a questionnaire format of behavioral screening to solve these problems. The questionnaire is well established as a research tool in the behavior of both humans and other animals. It is based on the principles that the dog's owner (who will fill out the survey) is the person who knows the dog best, and that the appropriate questions can obtain accurate quantifiable information from the dog owner. In this study the authors tested their ability to create and validate a questionnaire to measure the behavior of dogs in a way that provides results useful for both the average dog owner and animal behavior specialists.

Methods and Materials

Developing the questionnaire: The authors based the questions on behaviors described in existing literature. These questions were carefully worded so as to be as objective as possible. The dog owners ranked their dog on a scale of 0 to 4 points, depending upon the frequency and intensity of the given behavior, with 0 being never any signs of the behavior, and 4 signifying constant or severe behavior. Questions included such easily answerable questions as whether the dog, when confronted, was more inclined to just growl or actually bite. Owners could choose NA if they were unsure or the given situation did not apply to their dog. The survey was reviewed by professionals not involved in the study and modified until the final version, with 152 items, was produced.

Methods and Materials Continued

Subjects: The questionnaire was sent to 3 groups of dog owners. The first group consisted of 2,000 dogs who had recently been treated...
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