Idea for future research in dog behavior!

Within the past five years there has been increased interest in whether the emotional lives of nonhuman animals (henceforth referred to as ‘animal’) can be measured using tests of cognitive bias, also referred to in the literature as ‘cognitive-affective bias’ (Burman et al., 2009). Exploring the emotional processes of domesticated dogs is of particular interest when considering questions pertaining to welfare. And given that there are currently 78.2 million owned dogs in the US alone, adding to the literature discussing the emotional lives of these animals is potentially valuable (Humanesociety.org, 2012). Training and obedience work is often cited as a way to build effective communication between an owner and their dog (Apdt.org, 2012) and, therefore, the methods used potentially offer insight into individual human-dog relationships, specifically the emotional experiences of the dog. Exploring the affective state of dogs experiencing aversive stimuli during training might lead to a greater understanding of their emotional processes and utilizing cognitive bias might offer an effective measurement tool. Inspired by a 2011 study exploring cognitive bias in dogs induced to experience anxiety (Burman et al., 2011), I propose a comparison between the cognitive bias in dogs trained utilizing aversive stimuli with those trained utilizing Positive Reinforcement Training. I hypothesize that the use of aversive stimuli during training induces a ‘pessimistic’ cognitive bias, similar to that seen in a 2010 study on separation-related behavior in dogs (Mendl et al., 2010), and that this provides evidence for reduced welfare.

The concept of cognitive bias refers to the connection between the psychological state and then the emotional reaction experienced by humans interacting with ambiguous stimuli (Paul et al., 2005). More recently, there has been an interest in exploring whether animals too exhibit such biases, or ‘judgment biases’ (Paul et al., 2005). At it’s most straightforward, cognitive bias can be explained as those individuals who are generally happy tend to view ambiguous stimuli as non-threatening, whereas those whose general view is pessimistic more frequently view ambiguous stimuli as threatening or ‘negative’ (Paul et al., 2005).

References:
APDT.org. Retrieved November 29, 2012 from, http://www.apdt.com/petowners/training-and-behavior/

Burman, O. H. P., Parker, R. M. A., Paul, E. S., Mendl, M. (2009). Anxiety-induced
cognitive bias in non-human animals. Physiology & Behavior, 98, 345-350. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2009.06.012

Burman, O. H. P., McGowan, R., Mendl, M., Norling, Y., Paul, E., Rehn, T., Keeling, L.
(2011). Using judgment bias to measure positive affective state in dogs. Applied
Animal Behaviour Science, 132, 160-168. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2011.04.001

Humanesociety.org. Retrieved November 29, 2012 from, http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/pet_overpopulation/facts/pet_ownership_statistics.html

Mendl, M., Brooks, J., Basse, C., Burman, O., Paul, E., Blackwell, E., & Casey, R. (2010). Dogs showing separation-related behaviour exhibit a “pessimistic” cognitive bias. Current Biology, 20(19), R839–R840. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2010.08.030

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