Mugenda, L., Shreyer, T., Croney, C. 2019. Refining canine welfare assessment in kennels: Evaluating the reliability of Field Instantaneous Dog Observation (FIDO) scoring. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 221, 104874.
Accurate assessments of behavior and welfare are needed to evaluate the state of domestic dogs maintained in commercial breeding (CB) and other types of kennels. Field assessments of dogs’ states of being must be valid, reliable, and efficient. However, concerns about observer subjectivity and situational variation in dogs’ responses pose a challenge to incorporating behavioral metrics into welfare assessment tools. The Field Instantaneous Dog Observation (FIDO) tool, designed to capture the immediately observable physical and behavioral status of dogs in kennels, was thus examined to determine: 1) reliability of behavioral scoring when used by novice raters, and 2) whether dogs’ behavioral responses to a stranger’s approach within their home pens changed as a function of assessment duration. In study one, the behavioral component of the FIDO tool was conducted by two novice raters using 50 dogs housed at two US shelters. Dogs’ behavioral responses to approach were organized into three categories: red, indicating a fearful response to approach, green, indicating an affiliative or neutral response to approach, and yellow, indicating an ambivalent response to approach. Intra-rater reliability was assessed for each rater by comparing live observation scores with scores obtained from video recordings of the same tests. Agreement between raters’ scores from video recordings was also calculated. In study two, 81 commercial breeding dogs maintained at four USDA-licensed CB facilities were approached and FIDO scored for behavioral responses by one observer every five seconds for 30 s. Of the 81 subject dogs, 56 met the criteria for full sampling. Results from study one indicated that raters showed almost perfect agreement between their scores of live and video-recorded dog responses (kappa = 0.83, 0.89) and between each other (kappa = 0.87), reflecting high intra- and inter-rater reliability. Results from study two indicated that over a 30-s time frame with 5-s increments, 91% of the dogs showed no change in their behavioral responses to approach. This suggests that the first five seconds of approach provide a reliable time point for assessing behavior using the FIDO tool and indicates no benefit to extending FIDO scoring of dogs’ immediate responses to a stranger’s approach beyond that. These results provide preliminary evidence of the reliability of the behavioral component of the FIDO tool even when used by novices in behavioral assessment. Further research is needed to validate scores obtained using the tool against other indicators of immediate welfare state and against long-term indicators of overall welfare.