The Science of Dog Behavior

The Science of Dog Behavior

Is your dog a part of the C-BARQ (Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire) data set? C-BARQ was developed by researchers at the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania to “provide dog owners and professionals with standardized evaluations of canine temperament and behavior.” The questionnaire consists of 101 questions about the way in which dogs over the age of six months respond to “common events, situations, and stimuli in their environment.”

The survey begins by collecting some basic information about your dog’s breed, sex, age, origin, spay/neuter status, etc., and then moves on to the behavioral assessment, which is divided into seven sections:

  • Training and obedience
  • Aggression
  • Fear and anxiety
  • Separation-related behavior
  • Excitability
  • Attachment and attention-seeking
  • Miscellaneous (e.g., pulling on the leash, eating feces, and escaping)

The program uses the data entered to calculate a number of “behavior subscale scores, each of which corresponds to a particular characteristic of your dog.” With more than 80,000 entries, C-BARQ is now starting to yield some fascinating results. Here’s just a sample:
One published paper asked whether “behavioral qualities such as aggressiveness, trainability, and fearfulness” had any influence on the popularity of a breed. The answer is “no.” In fact, the researchers found that a breed’s popularity seemed to have no correlation at all with its health, longevity, or behavior, with the exception “that more popular breeds tend to suffer from more inherited disorders.” This led the authors to conclude that “dog breed popularity has been primarily determined by fashion rather than function.”
Another study explored whether a dog’s “behavioral characteristics predict the quality of the relationship between dogs and their owners.” In this case, the answer is “yes.” The authors concluded that “the strength of owner attachment to dogs related to several dog behavioral characteristics. Regardless of gender, age class, or race/ethnicity, owners reported stronger attachment for dogs that scored high on trainability and separation problems. These findings indicate that individuals are most likely to benefit from interacting with dogs that are well-behaved and show high affinity for human social contact.”
Researchers have also found that a shortened version of the C-BARQ taken by owners relinquishing their dogs to a shelter correlated well with the behaviors observed by shelter staff and future owners and could predict which dogs would eventually be adopted or euthanized.
Want to know more about what the C-BARQ is telling us about dog behavior? Take a look at this video, and then contribute to science by taking the questionnaire yourself.
Fashion vs. function in cultural evolution: the case of dog breed popularity. Ghirlanda S, Acerbi A, Herzog H, Serpell JA. PLoS One. 2013 Sep 11;8(9):e74770.
Do Dog Behavioral Characteristics Predict the Quality of the Relationship between Dogs and Their Owners? Hoffman CL, Chen P, Serpell JA, Jacobson KC.
Evaluation of a behavioral assessment tool for dogs relinquished to shelters. Duffy DL, Kruger KA, Serpell JA. Prev Vet Med. 2014 Dec 1;117(3-4):601-9.

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