Test Helps to Identify Which Puppies Will Make Good Guide Dogs

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Every dog is a good dog. Some are just better helpers than others, and now animal behavior experts have designed a new test that can help spot them early. The researchers published their findings in the journal PLOS One.

Service dog organizations like Guide Dog UK breed lots and lots of puppies every year. But not all those puppies will become guide dogs. Not all puppies want to be, says lead researcher Naomi Harvey of Nottingham University.

"If you've ever owned dogs you will know that every dog is different," Harvey said in a statement. "They have their own characters and personality, which are heavily influenced by their life experiences."

The sooner service dog trainers can separate the service dog candidates from the plain old lay-on-the-couch-and-drool puppies, the better off everyone will be. Being a good service dog requires more than just an aptitude for training; the dogs also have to be calm, focused, and cool under pressure. But accurately determining each puppy's predisposition has been a challenge.

So Harvey and her colleagues created the Puppy Training Supervisor Questionnaire (PTSQ), a behavioral assessment that lets dog trainers get a firm yes or no for each puppy in their care. The questionnaire examines seven key areas of each dog's personality: adaptability, body sensitivity, distractibility, excitability, general anxiety, trainability, and stair anxiety.

The researchers worked with Guide Dogs UK to beta test the questionnaire on 1401 would-be guide dogs. They used the PTSQ when the dogs were five, eight, and 12 months old, then followed up later on to see how each dog had fared.

More than half (58 percent) of the dogs in the study grew up to qualify as guide dogs. About one-quarter (27 percent) were just not cut out for the work, personality-wise, and the others were disqualified for health reasons.

The test accurately spotted small subsets of those future service dogs (8.5 percent) and future dropouts (8.4 percent). While those results may not be overwhelmingly impressive, the questionnaire is cheap, quick, and easy to administer, and it is progress toward more precise screening tests.

Chris Muldoon, the research development manager for Guide Dogs UK, says: "This tool, and the wider research project, is increasing our understanding of dog behavior and temperament to make informed decisions that will shape and improve our training processes."

The Time German and Russian WWI Soldiers Banded Together to Fight Wolves

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iStock.com/567185

During the winter of 1917, Russian and German soldiers fighting in the dreary trenches of the Great War’s Eastern Front had a lot to fear: enemy bullets, trench foot, frostbite, countless diseases, shrapnel, bayonets, tanks, sniper fire. Oh, and wolves.

In February of that year, a dispatch from Berlin noted that large packs of wolves were creeping from the forests of Lithuania and Volhynia into the interior of the German Empire, not far from the front lines. Like so many living creatures, the animals had been driven from their homes by the war and were now simply looking for something to eat. “As the beasts are very hungry, they penetrate into the villages and kill calves, sheep, goats, and other livestock,” the report, which appeared in the El Paso Herald, says. “In two cases children have been attacked by them.”

According to another dispatch out of St. Petersburg, the wolves were such a nuisance on the battlefield that they were one of the few things that could bring soldiers from both sides together. “Parties of Russian and German scouts met recently and were hotly engaged in a skirmish when a large pack of wolves dashed on the scene and attacked the wounded,” the report says, according to the Oklahoma City Times. “Hostilities were at once suspended and Germans and Russians instinctively attacked the pack, killing about 50 wolves.” It was an unspoken agreement among snipers that, if the Russians and Germans decided to engage in a collective wolf-hunt, all firing would cease.

Take this July 1917 New York Times report describing how soldiers in the Kovno-Wilna Minsk district (near modern Vilnius, Lithuania) decided to cease hostilities to fight this furry common enemy:

"Poison, rifle fire, hand grenades, and even machine guns were successively tried in attempts to eradicate the nuisance. But all to no avail. The wolves—nowhere to be found quite so large and powerful as in Russia—were desperate in their hunger and regardless of danger. Fresh packs would appear in place of those that were killed by the Russian and German troops.

"As a last resort, the two adversaries, with the consent of their commanders, entered into negotiations for an armistice and joined forces to overcome the wolf plague. For a short time there was peace. And in no haphazard fashion was the task of vanquishing the mutual foe undertaken. The wolves were gradually rounded up, and eventually several hundred of them were killed. The others fled in all directions, making their escape from carnage the like of which they had never encountered."

Afterward, the soldiers presumably returned to their posts and resumed pointing their rifles at a more violent and dangerous enemy—each other.

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