Barnard, S., Flint, H., Shreyer, T. et al. 2021. Evaluation of an easy-to-use protocol for assessing behaviors of dogs retiring from commercial breeding kennels. PLoS ONE 16(8), e0255883.
Objective, reliable behavioral tests are needed to refine on-site welfare assessments of dogs housed at commercial breeding (CB) kennels and provide a basis to inform predictions of their behavior when retired from such kennels. This study tested the reliability, construct validity, and applicability of a protocol for the behavioral assessment of dogs from CB kennels that might be useful in comprehensive welfare assessments of this population. A sample of 447 dogs from 26 CB kennels in the Midwestern US were assessed in their pens. Responses to an approach test (performed on three consecutive days) and a behavioral reactivity test (e.g., traffic cone, toys, umbrella) were recorded. Results showed moderate to perfect (Kw = 0.51–1.00) inter-rater reliability between three independent observers. Approach test-retest analysis showed high correlation of approach test scores on days 1, 2 and 3 (r = 0.85, p<0.0001). Exploratory factor analysis extracted four main factors: Food Motivation (F1), Sociability (F2), Boldness (F3) (e.g., response to novel objects), and Responsiveness (F4) (e.g., response to an umbrella opening) confirming the ability of the test to measure behaviors of interest. All factors showed high internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha 0.81–0.93) further supporting the robustness of the test construct. The demonstrated reliability of this protocol suggests that it may be usefully applied to assessing the behavior of dogs as a component of their welfare assessment in CB kennels. Doing so using even larger sample sizes may yield insights on the effects of housing and management practices on dog welfare while at the kennels, which may also help inform approaches that improve rehoming outcomes for retiring breeding dogs. Practical applications and limitations are outlined.