Date of Award

2022

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Animal Welfare and Behavior (MSc AWB)

First Advisor

Jennifer Punt, VMD, PhD

Second Advisor

Thomas Parsons, VMD, PhD

Abstract

Impulsivity is an inability to control inappropriate responses to stimuli in the environment. It refers to an inability to inhibit an action or to delay gratification for an immediate small reward versus a deferred large reward. Poor impulse control in dogs is a leading cause of owner relinquishment, rejection from assistance- and working-dog programs, and returns to shelter and foster care. The ability to reliably identify dogs who engage in impulsive behavior would improve these dogs’ welfare by facilitating appropriate interventions in a timely manner. To investigate if the tendency of impulsive choice could be predicted by available psychometric tests, twenty-four dog/handler teams were recruited to participate in this study. All teams were composed of veterinary professionals employed at a single community animal hospital and their dogs. Handlers completed both the Canine Behavioral Assessment & Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ) and the Dog Impulsivity Assessment Scale (DIAS) psychometric tests. All dog/handler teams then completed a spatial discounting test, assessing their dog’s ability to inhibit the choice of a close small food reward versus a more distant larger food reward. Twenty-one C-BARQ and DIAS sub-scales were found to have a statistically significant association. After performing a Bonferroni error correction calculation, two sets of pairwise associations related to arousability emerged as highly correlated and significant. However, we did not see a statistically significant association between C-BARQ, or DIAS sub-scales and maximum distance traveled in the spatial discounting test. This outcome raises the question of whether the attribution of impulsivity based on an owner reported questionnaire is subject to bias. Additionally, the spatial discounting test may not be an appropriate measure of impulsivity as a single test. The conclusion of this study suggests that veterinarians must carefully consider the limitations of behavioral diagnostic tests and be aware that erroneous results can influence welfare outcomes for companion dogs.

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