Wageningen UR uses and evaluates personality tests and assessments for candidate assistance dogs (e.g. guide dogs, hearing dogs and service dogs) enabling a better prediction which dogs will complete their training successfully. Dogs that adapt readily to major life events, with little stress, are more likely to succeed as assistance dogs.
Becoming an assistance dog -helping blind and handicapped people- requires long and intensive training, as performed by Hulphond Nederland. It also involves a substantial investment of tens of thousands euros with the risk that -even in a later stadium- dogs may fail to complete the programme. Therefore, Wageningen UR employs personality tests and assessments to evaluate which dogs are most likely to complete their training successfully. 'Which characteristics are important to a good working dog', researcher Bonne Beerda summarizes the questions. Whether or not, a characteristic such as appropriate social attachment is a determining success factor in candidate assistance dogs.
Emotional stability has been proven to be an important trait for success. Adaptive capacity predicts suitability for assistance tasks. Bonne calls these dogs 'emotionally stable' and finds that they have a higher probability of successfully completing their training programme. The ability to cope with stressful situations and a changing environment is important for such dogs assisting in a dynamic human society. The tests did not indicate a major role for the dogs’ attachment, probably because the study dogs were all well raised, socialized and attached to their host.
For the study, candidate assistance dogs came with their (host) owners to the Wageningen UR research facility for behavioural tests and were monitored after moving to the Hulphond Nederland training centre. Their activity in the new environment was measured with accelerosensors and stress hormone levels were determined. Those dogs that adapt faster, and become successfully trained service dogs, display a rapid decrease in baseline night activity during the initial weeks after relocation. Traits such as an optimistic nature are of less importance as early predictors of service dog suitability. Potentially interesting traits such as impulsivity are currently under investigation.