November 9, 2015

Early Experiences Influence Stress Coping in German Shepherds

The researchers hypothesized that early life experiences may alter the working capability of German Shepherds as service dogs and police dogs. They collected data from 503 dogs from 105 litters and gathered their date of birth, weight at birth, and weight at 10 days. From the time the dogs were 1 year old to 2 years old, they tested the dog's temperament to assess their their suitability as working dogs. The data was categorized into four different components: confidence, physical engagement, social engagement, and aggression. The researchers analyzed the effect of early life variables and the sex of the dog had on their performance on these components.

The dog's score in the confidence section was affected by parity (the equal treatment of the dog), sex, and litter size. The dog's score in the physical engagement section was affected by parity, growth rate, litter size, and season of birth. The social engagement category was affected by growth rate and sex. The aggression category was affected by sex. The study revealed that early life experiences have long-lasting effects on a dog's disposition and can be used in breeding future police and military dogs.

The researchers acknowledge that these tests may be not in-depth enough to analyze the dog's entire personality, but rather give a general idea of which dogs will be suitable for police and military service. Dogs demonstrate two different stress responses: the fight or flight response and the proactive response. The proactive response is categorized by aggression and territorial control.

Pernilla Foyer, Erik Wilsson, Dominic Wright, Per Jensen, April 2013. Early experiences modulate stress coping in a population of German Shepherd dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 146: 79-87.