Stella, J., Shreyer, T., Ha, J. et al. 2019. Improving canine welfare in commercial breeding (CB) operations: Evaluating rehoming candidates. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 220, 104861.
Disposal of dogs retired from commercial breeding facilities presents a scientific and ethical problem. This pilot study aimed to develop criteria for identifying commercial breeding (CB) dogs likely to be at risk for problems during transitioning to rehoming, and to identify breeder practices associated with higher and lower risk. Dogs (n = 283) over 18 months of age from 17 CB kennels located in Indiana and Illinois, USA were assessed. The Field Instantaneous Dog Observation (FIDO) tool was used to assess behavior during a 4-step stranger approach test. At each step, the dog was given a RYG score; R, red (fearful), Y, yellow (ambivalent), or G, green (affiliative or neutral). After behavior assessment, 50 mg of hair was shaved from each dog’s lower back for analysis of hair cortisol concentration (HCC). A FitBark monitor collected 24 -hs of activity data. Additionally, a questionnaire was developed to interview each facility owner about their management practices. Overall mean HCC (n = 266) was 8.92 pg/mg (2.01–108.99 +/−14.24 pg/mg) while mean HCC at each facility ranged from 5.65 to 38.48 pg/mg. Mean activity score (n = 250) was 9.04 ± 4.3 and ranged from 2.8 to 32.8. Eight components from a principal component analysis (PCA) were retained as predictors in two mixed effects linear regression models. In Model 1, the component Socialization was significantly associated with HCC (p = 0.01). In Model 2 the components Late RYG (p < 0.001) and Activity (p = 0.002) were positively associated with Early RYG while Dog:Care (dog to caretaker ratio) (p = 0.03) and PD (periodontal disease) (p < 0.001) were negatively associated. Over half the dogs assessed using the stranger approach test exhibited fearful responses, suggesting that they might be at greater risk for problems if selected to transition to a new home. Additionally, the breeders’ management practices varied widely, with the number of socialization practices employed inversely associated with HCC. Further research is needed to assess the predictive value of the risk assessment and the generalizability of these results in a larger population of dogs and kennels.