Validity of model devices used to assess canine temperament in behavioral tests

Shanis Barnard, Carlo Siracusa, Ilana Reisner, Paola Valsecchi, James a. Serpell

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

39 Citations (Scopus)


Temperament tests are widely accepted as instruments for profiling behavioral variability in dogs, and they are applied in numerous areas of investigation (e.g. suitability for adoption or for breeding). During testing, to elicit a dog's reaction toward novel stimuli and predict its behavior in everyday life, model devices such as a child-like doll, or a fake dog, are often employed. However, the reliability of these devices to accurately stimulate dogs' reactions to children or dogs, is unknown and perhaps overestimated. This may be a particular concern in the case of aggressive behavior toward humans, a significant public health issue. The aim of this study was to: (1) evaluate the correlation between dogs' reactions to these devices, and owners' reports of their dog's aggression history (using the C-BARQ ??); (2) compare reactions toward the devices of dogs with and without histories of aggression. Subjects were selected among those visiting for behavioral consultation at the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and previously categorized as aggressive toward unfamiliar children, conspecifics, or as non-aggressive dogs (control). The test consisted of different components: an unfamiliar female tester approaching the dog; the presentation of a child-like doll, an ambiguous object, and a fake plastic dog. All tests were videotaped and durations of behaviors were later analyzed on the basis of a specified ethogram. Dogs' reactions were compared to C-BARQ scores, and interesting correlations emerged for 'dog-directed aggression/fear' (R = 0.48, P = 0.004), and 'stranger-directed aggression' (R = 0.58, P <0.001) factors. Dogs differed in their reactions toward the devices: the child-like doll and the fake dog elicited more social behaviors than the ambiguous object used as a control stimulus. Issues concerning the reliability of these tools to assess canine temperament are discussed. ?? 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationApplied Animal Behaviour Science
PublisherElsevier B.V.
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)0168-1591
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Publication series

NameApplied Animal Behaviour Science


  • Behavior
  • Dog
  • Temperament test
  • Validity


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