Assessing the risk of welfare compromise in dogs: a new perspective — ASN Events

Assessing the risk of welfare compromise in dogs: a new perspective (#880)

Marloes H. van der Goot 1 , Alessia Ortolani 1 , Hein A. van Lith 1 , Frauke Ohl 1
  1. Utrecht University, Utrecht, UTRECHT, Netherlands

We suggest that assessment of welfare status should focus on whether or not the animal has the freedom and capacity to react appropriately to both potentially positive and potentially harmful stimuli. The recognition that welfare is in large part a function of an animal’s ability to respond appropriately and in some adaptive way to its environmental circumstances suggests that we may expect considerable variation between individual animals. The acceptance of such a biologically grounded view on animal welfare has significant implications for both the assessment of welfare states and, in consequence, the assessment of risks for compromised welfare.

We here introduce a biologically-based approach for the assessment of behavioural response types in individually kept domestic dogs as defined in terms of observations of behavioural/physiological adaptation to changing environmental circumstances. We suggest that the risk for welfare compromises then is to be related to circumstances that exceed the individual’s adaptive capacities.

Preliminary results come from domestic dogs (N = 57) that were tested in a simple procedure during a veterinary visit. Dogs were placed on an examination table  and their behaviour and heart rate were scored subsequently for five minutes. When looking at panting behaviour we distinguished four types of panting responses; a constant high level of panting (N=30), an increase of panting over time (N=11), an increase and then decrease of panting (N=9) and a group of dogs that started panting at the end of the observation period (N=7).

We are currently applying this approach to other parameters that were collected in order to provide a more complete overview of the behaviours the dogs showed over time. In addition, we aim to analyze whether there is a correlation between individuals that cluster together within one parameter with individuals that cluster together in another parameter.