November 2, 2015

The influence of cerebral lateralisation on the behaviour of the racing greyhound

The authors of this paper sought to explore the relationship between paw preference and the behavior of racing greyhounds. The scientists tracked 53 racing greyhounds in the way they moved upon exiting the starting box (either to the left, to the right, or straight). The ideal running position is close to the center rail of the track, or out wide of the other dogs. The scientists found a a relationship between the frequency of running on the rail and paw preference; the more left-pawed the dog was, the more frequently it would run on the rail. The scientists hypothesized that there would be a link between paw preference and the direction from the starting box that the hound chose. One possibility they hypothesized was that paw preference would be caused by ocular laterality, which means that dogs prefer to see their "prey" with one eye vs the other. 

The authors established paw prefererence first using the Kong paw preference test (used in Batt et al. (2007)), which involves observers tracking which paw was most used to stabliize the Kong when the greyhound attempted to get food out of it. This did not work because the greyhounds were not voracious enough to really go for the food and therefore accurately complete the test. To overcome this, the scientists utilized a fresh meaty marrow bone and observed for paw preference, and this had a much more clear response. 

After this step, the authors used SUREpick, a company that provides a tipping service to greyhound gamblers, to gain slow motion footage of individual starts and rail positions of the dogs studied. Statistics were used to analyze each dogs direction from starting box and eventual rail position in order to compare the individual dog to the rest of the dogs in the study. 

The results were clear; the greyhounds displayed clear preferences for specific rail positions and directions from the starting box over multiple races. For example, increased left pawdness had a medium association with an increase in running on the rail. This study has implications for the sport of racing in general; though earlier it was thought that greyhound collisions (which can result in career-ending injuries) were largely due to the dogs relationship in space with the lure that it chases, but due to the fact that the location of the lure had little to no effect on the direction of movement form the starting box or rail position of the dog, collisions in fact may be due to dogs moving towards their preferential rail positions. By placing the hounds in starting boxes that match their behavioral preference, these collisions could be lessened.
Schneider, Luke A., Paul H. Delfabbro, and Nicholas R. Burns. 'The Influence Of Cerebral Lateralisation On The Behaviour Of The Racing Greyhound'. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 141.1-2 (2012): 57-64. Web.