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Phenotyping of Aggressive Behavior in Golden Retriever Dogs with a Questionnaire

Abstract

Reliable and valid phenotyping is crucial for our study of genetic factors underlying aggression in Golden Retriever dogs. A mail questionnaire based on the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (CBARQ; Hsu and Serpell, 2003, JAVMA 223(9):1293–1300) was used to assess behavioral phenotypes. Owners of 228 Golden Retrievers completed the questionnaire. These dogs had been referred to our clinic for aggression problems several years earlier or they were related to aggressive dogs. In this paper, three sets of results are presented, which indicate that behavior scores from the CBARQ can be applied to genetic studies. First, factor analysis demonstrated that CBARQ items can be grouped into 10 behavioral traits, including three types of aggression: stranger-directed aggression, owner-directed aggression, and dog-directed aggression. The results were remarkably similar to those reported by Hsu and Serpell. The aggression scores showed considerable variation in our dog families, which is a prerequisite for genetic studies. Second, retrospective questions enabled us to study changes in the aggressive behavior of the dogs in the course of time. After an average time interval of 4.3 years, over 50% of the dogs had become less aggressive. Third, we analyzed data obtained with an aggression test of 83 dogs. Two out of the three CBARQ aggression factors were also found in the aggression test data.

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Acknowledgments

The “Jubileumfonds Hoogleraren Diergeneeskunde” and Eukanuba supported this work. We would like to thank dr. James Serpell for putting the CBARQ at our disposal and for his comments during the design of the questionnaire and the analysis of the results. We are grateful to Matt Bruce for correcting the manuscript. Edith de Leeuw, Joop Hox, and Nienke Endenburg are thanked for advice on questionnaire design. AnneMarie Droogleever, Kim Boerkamp, Lonneke Corten, Ad van Deelen, Rutger van Deelen, Wilma van Deelen, Hendrike Valkenburg, Mieke Holtslag, Jan Jansen, Carrie Kamerbeek-van Lexmond, Bart Knol, Laura Lancee, Polona Stabej, Anne Thaysen, Monique van Wolferen, and one anonymous Golden Retriever owner volunteered to be a test person for the draft version of the questionnaire, which is highly appreciated. Master students Irene van Andel, Laura Kwant, and Jesse Willemse are thanked for technical assistance; and the Golden Retriever owners and breeders for their willingness to cooperate with our project.

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Correspondence to L. van den Berg.

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Appendix

Appendix

Appendix table: The canine behavioral assessment and research questionnaire (CBARQ)

Category   CBARQ item
Training and obedience Dog 1 returns immediately when called when off leash
2 obeys the “sit” command immediately
3 obeys the “stay” command immediately
4 seems to attend / listen closely to everything you say or do
\(5^{a}\) is slow to respond to correction or punishment (“thick-skinned”)
\(6^{a}\) is slow to learn new tricks or tasks
\(7^{a}\) is easily distracted by interesting sights, sounds, or smells
8 will retrieve (or attempt to retrieve) sticks, balls, or objects
Aggression Dog acts aggressively 9 when verbally corrected or punished (scolded, shouted at, etc) by you or a household member
10b when approached directly by an unfamiliar adult while being walked / exercised on a leash
11 when approached directly by an unfamiliar child while being walked / exercised on a leash
12 toward unfamiliar persons approaching the dog while s/he is in your car (at a parking lot for example)
13 when toys, bones or other objects are taken away by a household member
14 when bathed or groomed by a household member
15 when an unfamiliar person approaches you or another member of your family at home
16 when unfamiliar persons approach you or another member of your family away from your home
17 when approached directly by a household member while s/he is eating
18 when mailmen or other delivery workers approach your home
19 when his/her food is taken away by a household member
20 when strangers walk past your home while your dog is in the yard
21c when an unfamiliar person tries to touch or pet the dog
22 when joggers or cyclists pass your home while your dog is in the yard
23 when approached directly by an unfamiliar male dog while being walked or exercised on a leash
24 when approached directly by an unfamiliar female dog while being walked or exercised on a leash
25 when stared at directly by a member of the household
26 toward unfamiliar dogs visiting your home
27 toward cats or other animals entering your yard
28 toward unfamiliar persons visiting your home
29c when barked, growled or lunged at by another (unfamiliar) dog
30 when stepped over by a member of the household
31 when you or a household member retrieves food or objects stolen by the dog
32c towards another (familiar) dog in your household
33c when approached at a favorite resting / sleeping place by another (familiar) household dog
34c when approached while eating by another (familiar) household dog
35c when approached while playing with / chewing a favorite toy, bone, object, etc., by another (familiar) household dog
Fear and anxiety Dog acts anxious or fearful 36b when approached directly by an unfamiliar adult while away from your home
37 when approached directly by an unfamiliar child while away from your home
38 in response to sudden or loud noises (e.g. vacuum cleaner, car backfire, road drills, objects being dropped, etc.)
39 when unfamiliar persons visit your home
40c when an unfamiliar person tries to touch or pet the dog
41 in heavy traffic
42 in response to strange or unfamiliar objects on or near the sidewalk (e.g. plastic trash bags, leaves, litter, flags flapping, etc.)
43 when examined or treated by a veterinarian
44 during thunderstorms
45 when approached directly by an unfamiliar dog of the same or larger size
46 when approached directly by an unfamiliar dog of a smaller size
47 when first exposed to unfamiliar situations (e.g. first car trip, first time in elevator, first visit to veterinarian, etc.)
48 in response to wind or wind-blown objects
49 when having claws clipped by a household member
50 when groomed or bathed by a household member
51c when having his/her feet toweled by a member of the household
52c when unfamiliar dogs visit your home
53c when barked, growled or lunged at by another unfamiliar dog
Separation-related behavior When left or about to be left on its own, the dog displays 54 shaking, shivering or trembling
55 excessive salivation
56 restlessness/agitation/pacing
57 whining
58 barking
59 howling
60 chewing/scratching at doors, floor, windows, curtains, etc
61 loss of appetite
Excitability Dog overreacts or is excitable 62 when you or other members of the household come home after a brief absence
63 when playing with you or other members of your household
64 when doorbell rings
65 just before being taken for a walk
66 just before being taken on a car trip
67 when visitors arrive at your home
Attachment and attention seeking Dog 68 displays a strong attachment for one particular member of the household
69 tends to follow you (or other members of household) about the house, from room to room
70 tends to sit close to, or in contact with, you (or others) when you are sitting down
71 tends to nudge, nuzzle, or paw you (or others) for attention when you are sitting down
72 becomes agitated (whines, jumps up, tries to intervene) when you (or others) show affection for another person
73 becomes agitated (whines, jumps up, tries to intervene) when you (or others) show affection for another dog or animal
Miscellaneous Dog chases 74 cats (given the chance)
75 birds (given the chance)
76 other animals (e.g. rabbits) (given the chance)
  1. \(^{a}\) Scores on this item were reversed, i.e. never = 4, seldom = 3, etc
  2. bTwo items in the PennBARQ were fused to create this item. The PennBARQ is an earlier version of the CBARQ (Hsu and Serpell, 2003)
  3. cItem was not present in the PennBARQ (Hsu and Serpell 2003)

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van den Berg, L., Schilder, M.B.H., Vries, H.d. et al. Phenotyping of Aggressive Behavior in Golden Retriever Dogs with a Questionnaire. Behav Genet 36, 882–902 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10519-006-9089-0

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Keywords

  • Dog
  • Aggression
  • Phenotyping
  • Questionnaire
  • Aggression test