Not all dogs are used strictly as your furry family friend. Many people and organizations use canines to do work for them and help them out. But what makes a dog a good work dog? A new canine aptitude test is attempting to find just this exact question out. Check out the details below!
What makes a good working dog? Canine ‘aptitude test’ might offer clues
- October 25, 2018
- University of Arizona
- A canine cognition test could help organizations that train working dogs identify the dogs that are most likely to succeed, according to new research. If organizations could better predict which dogs will succeed in working roles, it could save thousands of dollars in training costs and ensure people in need get dogs faster.
The canine labor market is diverse and expansive. Assistance dogs may be trained to work with the visually or hearing impaired, or with people in wheelchairs. Detection dogs may be trained to sniff out explosives, narcotics or bedbugs. Other pups even learn to jump out of helicopters on daring rescue missions.
Despite the wide variety of working roles available for man’s best friend, those jobs can be tough to fill, since not every dog will qualify. Even among dogs specifically bred to be assistance dogs, for example, only about 50 percent that start a training program will successfully complete it, while the rest go on to be very well-trained family pets.
As a result, the wait list for a trained assistance dog can be up to two years.
Evan MacLean, director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona, is exploring ways to identify the best dogs for different jobs — before they start the long and expensive training process — by looking at their cognitive abilities.
He is lead author of a new study in Frontiers in Veterinary Sciencethat looks at whether canines’ cognitive abilities can help predict their success as working dogs.
While a dog’s physical characteristics and temperament are often considered when thinking about which dog will be right for a given job, cognition is an area that’s received far less attention.
“People have really focused on temperament and how reactive a dog is to certain things in the environment,” said MacLean, assistant professor in the UA School of Anthropology. “What we were interested in was the fact that these dogs also face cognitive challenges. They have to learn all these things in the course of their training, and they have to be able to flexibly solve problems when things go wrong.”
MacLean’s study focuses on two types of working dogs: assistance dogs in training, which will go on to be paired with people with disabilities, and explosive detection dogs working for the U.S. Navy.
MacLean and his colleagues looked at the performance of both types of dogs on 25 different cognitive measures by using a battery of game-based tests, like hiding and finding objects and other forms of canine play.
What they found: A different set of skills predict whether a dog will be a good detection dog or a good assistance dog.
In the case of assistance dogs, social skills — including the ability to pay close attention to and maintain eye contact with humans — appear to be especially important. In detection dogs, good short-term memory and sensitivity to human body language, such as pointing gestures, were the best predictors of success.
“Dog jobs are just about as diverse as human jobs are,” MacLean said. “People sometimes think of working dogs as this general category of dogs that have jobs in society, but they actually have to do really, really different things, and because these jobs are so diverse, we didn’t expect that there was going to be one litmus test for what would make a good dog. It’s like if you think about aptitude testing with people — there are certain questions that will tell you something about one job but not another.”
The study involved 164 dogs from the California-based organization Canine Companions for Independence, which trains assistance dogs, and 222 dogs from the Navy.
Read the rest at Science Daily