Scientists have developed a new tool that can help predict which puppies are most likely to successfully complete guide dog training. Working dog organisations need to regularly assess the behaviour of the dogs they breed for training as not all of them turn out to be suited to the role. Researchers at the University of Nottingham in the UK have created and tested a questionnaire-style decision tool which could help trainers from guide dogs to monitor and evaluate their dog's behaviour. The tool successfully predicted training outcomes in 16.9 per cent of young dogs of five to 12 months old to an accuracy of 84 per cent.
It is called the Puppy Training Supervisor Questionnaire (PTSQ). The aim is to identify dogs who are not suitable to a guiding role early, before they enter time-consuming and costly formal training. The PTSQ is also intended to improve the understanding of a young dog's behaviour, which guide dogs will use to inform their future training processes to give the best chances of success. "Predicting working dog suitability in puppies has been a huge challenge to organisations for many years. If you've ever owned dogs you will know that every dog is different," said Naomi Harvey, lead researcher of the study published in the journal PLOS ONE. "They have their own characters and personality, which are heavily influenced by their life experiences," Harvey said. "We were really pleased that this questionnaire-style behaviour assessment was able to effectively identify the dogs who were most, and least, suitable to guiding work, from a young age, and help to highlight those in between dogs who were at risk of failing training," she said. The new behaviour assessment has been designed to be completed by training supervisors of young dogs at the age of five, eight and 12 months old. The research also evaluated aspects of the questionnaire's reliability and accuracy. The results of the questionnaires completed by the training supervisors - 1,401 in total - showed consistency of individual dogs' scores over the three age ranges. Of the dogs included in the study, 58 per cent went on to qualify as guide dogs, 27 per cent were behaviourally unsuited to guiding work and the remainder were unsuited for health reasons. Within this number there were also dogs with exceptional character and temperament who were selected for breeding. The research could be extended in the future to follow up the dogs' working life as a guide dog. This could help shed light on why some dogs are retired early for behavioural reasons and the human and dog factors which contribute to this unique partnership's success.
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