Digitally-enhanced dog behavioral testing

Sci Rep. 2023 Dec 1;13(1):21252. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-48423-8.


Behavioral traits in dogs are assessed for a wide range of purposes such as determining selection for breeding, chance of being adopted or prediction of working aptitude. Most methods for assessing behavioral traits are questionnaire or observation-based, requiring significant amounts of time, effort and expertise. In addition, these methods might be also susceptible to subjectivity and bias, negatively impacting their reliability. In this study, we proposed an automated computational approach that may provide a more objective, robust and resource-efficient alternative to current solutions. Using part of a 'Stranger Test' protocol, we tested n = 53 dogs for their response to the presence and neutral actions of a stranger. Dog coping styles were scored by three dog behavior experts. Moreover, data were collected from their owners/trainers using the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ). An unsupervised clustering of the dogs' trajectories revealed two main clusters showing a significant difference in the stranger-directed fear C-BARQ category, as well as a good separation between (sufficiently) relaxed dogs and dogs with excessive behaviors towards strangers based on expert scoring. Based on the clustering, we obtained a machine learning classifier for expert scoring of coping styles towards strangers, which reached an accuracy of 78%. We also obtained a regression model predicting C-BARQ scores with varying performance, the best being Owner-Directed Aggression (with a mean average error of 0.108) and Excitability (with a mean square error of 0.032). This case study demonstrates a novel paradigm of 'machine-based' dog behavioral assessment, highlighting the value and great promise of AI in this context.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal* / physiology
  • Dogs
  • Fear*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Surveys and Questionnaires