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Studying Behavior to Save Dogs
New organization aims to use research to keep pets out of shelters.

According to the Simon Foundation, behavior is the number one killer of dogs under the age of three. Challenges such as barking and aggression result in millions of dogs to be surrendered at animal shelters around the world each year.

This sad reality inspired the creation of their Center for Canine Behavior Studies. The Center aims to use behavioral science to advance our understanding of dogs and to strengthen the human-canine relationship to be proactive against the homeless pet problem.

Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, founder of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University, is serving as their Chief Scientific Officer.

One of his first studies will look at how owner personality influences the behavior of their dogs.

Past studies have shown that higher rates of behavior problems (sexual mounting, destructiveness, attention-seeking, separation anxiety, and aggression) in dogs were associated with people that were emotionally unstable (measured using tools such as the Eysenck Personality Inventory).

A study of search and rescue dogs deployed at the World Trade Center and Pentagon following the 9/11 terrorist attacks found that the handler's PTSD and depression symptom scores (one year later) predicted the development of behavioral problems, such as sepration anxiety and aggression, in their dogs.

Dr. Dodman and Professor James A. Serpell, Director of the Center of Interaction of Animals and Society at UPenn, are furthering this research by embarking on the largest owner-dog personality-behavior study ever conducted to establish the how a person's personality and psychological status can affect pet behavior.

They hope to use the results of the study to help people understand the influence they are having on their pet's behavior and to be able to modify their interactions accordingly. They also would like to use the information gained to help predict which owner personality types are most compatible with a particular dog that they plan to adopt.

There is lots of exciting research coming out of the Center for Canine Behavior Studies and I can't wait to see the impact on homeless pets.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Josh/flickr.

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