Behavioral development in guide and service dogs
Of the several thousand dogs bred each year by guide and service dog organizations, over half fail to graduate successfully as working dogs. Behavior and temperament problems of one sort or another account for approximately 70% of these failures.
In collaboration with several national guide and service dog agencies (e.g., The Seeing Eye, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and Canine Companions for Independence), the CIAS is conducting and supervising a number of projects that seek to clarify the developmental and genetic causes of behavioral and temperament problems in these dogs. These projects include (1) the development of reliable, standardized methods (questionnaires and behavior tests) for measuring and quantifying the behavior and temperament of working dogs at different stages of the life cycle; (2) analysis of the heritable genetic components of canine temperament and, ultimately, the identification of genetic markers for these traits; (3) the study of early environmental influences on the development of behavior, and (4) the development of non-invasive methods to investigate the physiological correlates (stress hormones) of poor working performance in guide and service dogs.
Although aimed at improving the success rates of guide and service dogs, the results of these studies are also likely to be of great benefit to companion dogs, and other categories of working dogs. This work is supported from various sources including individual guide/service dog agencies, and the AKC Canine Health Foundation.
Behavioral development in companion dogs
Behavioral problems are the largest single cause of canine abandonment, relinquishment to shelters, and premature euthanasia in the USA. The CIAS is investigating the development of canine behavior problems in pet dogs, focusing particularly on the effects of early experience. This study is following up the results of previous work that demonstrated a relationship between certain distressing events and experiences in early development (6-16 weeks), such as routine veterinary procedures, and the prevalence of adult behavior problems. The specific aim will be to improve veterinary care and husbandry procedures for puppies at this vulnerable age and, by doing so, reduce the prevalence of behavior problems in the pet dog population. The work is ongoing, and has been supported by a number of private foundations including: the Arell Foundation, The Pet Care Trust, the Kenneth Scott Trust, the University of Pennsylvania Research Foundation, and the AKC Canine Health Foundation.
Monitoring health and behavior in search & rescue dogs deployed at the WTC and Pentagon sites following the 9/11 disasters
In collaboration with other University of Pennsylvania faculty and researchers, the CIAS is currently conducting a study of the long-term behavioral effects of deployment at the WTC and Pentagon sites on a population of search & rescue dogs. Behavioral effects are being monitored in the context of findings from parallel studies of the medical condition of these dogs, and the physical and emotional well-being of their handlers. This work is supported by a grant from the AKC Canine Health Foundation to Dr. C.M. Otto, the Project Director.
Animals and religion
This project focuses on the historical importance of animals in the evolution of religious ideas and ideologies, with particular emphasis on the extraordinary role of animals in medieval and early modern witchcraft beliefs and prosecutions; a topic that has been ignored by historians despite the the vast scholarly literature pertaining to other aspects of the European witch hunts. Some of this work was supported by a visiting fellowship award to James Serpell from the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University.
Cultural influences on the treatment of companion animals
In many developing countries, the population of unowned and free-roaming companion animals has reached overwhelming proportions. The welfare of these animals is severely at risk, and, generally speaking, little or no established infrastructure exists in situ to tackle the problem in a rational or humane way. As part of a larger program of research into the causes of, and possible solutions to, the welfare problems of companion animals in developing countries, the CIAS recently completed a study of cultural influences on the treatment of stray dogs in Taiwan. This project represents a pilot investigation of a particularly urgent 'test case' scenario in South East Asia that may serve as a model for future studies and programs in other areas of the world. The research was funded by a grant from the Humane Society of the United States.
More recently, CIAS was also instrumental in securing funding from Humane Society International for Emily Jones, a 1st year veterinary student, to visit Ecuador and conduct a pilot study of stray dogs and attitudes to stray dogs in an Andean community.
Understanding urban animal cruelty: an ecological model
Although it is widely assumed that an association exists between cruelty to animals and other forms of violent or criminal behavior, the supporting evidence is surprisingly limited. This study used a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) approach to analyze Pennsylvania SPCA statistics on reported animal cruelty and neglect in the City of Philadelphia between 1996 and 1999. Reported animal abuse cases were mapped according to address, and their frequency and distribution investigated in relation to socioeconomic, demographic, and contextual factors. The links between animal abuse and other forms of criminal behavior were also explored. Funding for the initial pilot phase of this project was provided by a Frontiers in Veterinary Medicine Grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation to Jennifer Adler, a 2nd year veterinary student. The study would not have been possible without the help of Dr. Dennis Culhane (School of Social Work) and the Cartographic Modeling Lab of the University of Pennsylvania.
Animal-assisted interventions in adolescent mental health
The CIAS has compiled a detailed literature review on the theory and practice of animal-assisted interventions in the treatment of mental health problems in older children and adolescents. The project was supported by a grant to James Serpell and Symme Trachtenberg from The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands. The literature review can be downloaded by clicking here.
Disclosure of behavioral problems in pet dogs being relinquished to animal shelters
The CIAS has embarked on a series of studies that aim to assess the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ) as a behavioral screening tool for use in animal shelters. Currently, many shelters assess canine behavior on intake by using observation-based behavioral tests performed by shelter personnel as a means of evaluating dogs’ suitability for adoption. However, this practice raises serious doubts concerning how ‘typical’ a dog’s test responses are likely to be in the highly stressful circumstances surrounding relinquishment.
The CIAS’s current program of research seeks to evaluate the reliability of canine behavioral information provided by relinquishing owners, as well as the feasibility of using a modified version of the C-BARQ as a shelter intake screening tool.
These projects have been supported by grants to James Serpell from the Morris Animal Foundation, as well as a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Frontiers in Veterinary Medicine grant to Laura Gibeon in 2004.