Animal behaviour experts at the University of Nottingham’s vet school have developed a new tool that can be used to predict a young dog’s likelihood of successfully completing guide dog training.

A guide dog in training. IMAGE: University of Nottingham.
The aim of the PTSQ is to identify dogs not suitable to a guiding role before they enter time-consuming and costly formal training.

Working dog organisations like the charity Guide Dogs (GD), who funded the research, need to regularly assess the behaviour of the dogs they breed for training, as not all of them turn out to be suited to the role.

Decision tool

As part of a wider £500,000 epidemiology research collaboration with GD – which breeds around 1,400 dogs for possible guide dog training every year – researchers created and tested a questionnaire-style decision tool that could help the charity’s trainers monitor and evaluate their dog’s behaviour.

The tool, called the Puppy Training Supervisor Questionnaire (PTSQ), successfully predicted training outcomes in 16.9% of young dogs of five to 12 months old, to an accuracy of 84%.

Early identification

The aim is to identify dogs not suitable to a guiding role early, before they enter time-consuming and costly formal training. The PTSQ is also intended to improve the understanding of a young dog’s behaviour, which GD will use to inform their future training processes to give the best chances of success.

The full study – An evidence-based decision assistance model for predicting training outcome in juvenile guide dogs – has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Huge challenge

Lead researcher on the project Naomi Harvey said: “Predicting working dog suitability in puppies has been a huge challenge to organisations for many years. If you’ve ever owned dogs you will know every dog is different. They have their own characters and personality, which are heavily influenced by their life experiences.

“We were really pleased this questionnaire-style behaviour assessment was able to effectively identify the dogs who were most, and least, suitable to guiding work, from a young age, and help to highlight those in-between dogs who were at risk of failing training.”

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