Fanny Menugea, Estelle Descouta, Sana Arrouba, Céline Lafont Lecuellea, Emeline Gautierb, Manuel Mengolib* and Patrick Pageata*
Received:November 15, 2021; Published:November 30, 2021
Corresponding author: Hagar Goldberg, The University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver Campus, 2329 West Mall, Vancouver BC, V6T 1Z4, Canada
Guide dogs are a major resource for people with visual impairment. Unfortunately, more than one-third of them are reformed each year because they do not have the required qualities. Their specific training leads them to establish several interspecific attachment bonds, the first one with their puppy raisers, which constitutes an important emotional base for their future cognitive-emotional development and mental stability. Eight guide dogs aged between 1 and 2 years in the training period and their puppy raisers were involved. This is a preliminary study that aimed to investigate attachment behaviours in guide dogs towards their puppy raisers using the Strange Situation Test (SST). The second goal was to assess the suitability of using psychometric scales measuring the emotional state of the animals in this shared-custody context. Two psychometric scales that reflect dogs’ impulsivity and sensitivity levels were applied through questionnaires-the Dog Impulsivity Assessment Scale (DIAS) and the Positive and Negative Assessment Scale (PANAS)-completed by the puppy raisers and principal trainers. The SST revealed a preference among the dogs for their puppy raisers over a stranger, as evidenced by expressing more secure base effect behaviour when the puppy raiser was present (Tukey-Kr; DF=13.9; t=3.05; p=0.02) and greater proximity seeking behaviour towards the puppy raiser than towards the stranger (Student’s t-test; DF=1; t=2.66; p=0.03). The test also highlighted a strong difficulty in remaining alone, as demonstrated by a longer duration of door proximity behaviour when alone (Tukey-Kr; DF=7; t=5.15; p<0.001). Notably, the results of the questionnaire score analysis revealed a discordance between the perception of educators and puppy raisers, giving uncorrelated scores. This study will be repeated once the dogs have been adopted by visually impaired children to assess the continuity of the attachment bond developed with the foster family over time and determine whether this bond influences the success of the dogs and their ability to create a new bond in the long term.
Keywords: Ainsworth Strange Situation Test; Attachment; Emotional state; Foster family; Human dog relationship
Guide dogs accompany people with visual impairments to
increase their independence by providing them assistance in their
daily tasks . The relationship is based on mutual trust, which is
essential for the proper functioning of the dyad . Indeed, the dog
must be able to deal with all sorts of unforeseen circumstances that
might be encountered in the course of its work. Not reacting when
faced with a sudden event, organizing the environment, and showing
the way when encountering an obstacle are all indispensable skills
that help ensure the safety of the person and the fluidity of his/
her movement . Emotional balance and the capacity to cope with
emotional distress are therefore the most desired characteristics in
guide dogs . These characteristics could play a fundamental role
in both the acquisition of relevant skills and in the dog’s ability to put
these skills into practice every day with the person it accompanies.
Unfortunately, a large proportion of dogs are excluded from the
guide dog programme [5-7]. In 2016, the percentage of reformed
or reoriented dogs was estimated at approximately 40% in France
, of which 60% occurred for behavioural reasons . Dogs are
usually trained by a federated association, foundation or training
programme. Early detection of problems or difficulties is therefore
desirable to avoid as much financial and time loss as possible due
to the high cost of each animal for diet, health care and training,
which usually amounts to between 20,000 and 25,000 euros per
dog in France .
As a result of training, guide dogs establish different emotional bonds with different people during the first two years of life: the dog’s mother and siblings initially, then the foster family, the educator, and finally the visually impaired person the dog will accompany. Foster families keep dogs from the weaning stage and teach them basic rules in terms of education. They are therefore considered very important in the breeding of future guide dogs . Attachment, as developed, is described as the product of behaviours aimed at seeking and maintaining proximity to a specific person. This is an important concept defended by several authors, including [12-15], who claim that the theory is valid for all mammals. According a secure base effect is the main factor indicating the presence of an attachment bond between two individuals. Accordingly, they constructed the strange situation test (SST - fully described by the authors, 1970) to measure the relationship between a child approximately one year old and his or her significant person, most often the mother. Since then, several researchers have shown that attachment can also exist interspecifically between a dog and its handler, thanks to a revised version of this test, the SST-R [16-20]. The presence of this bond was confirmed by the work and who stipulated that people can act as a secure base for their dogs. This paper is a preliminary study of the largest research area. The goal is to understand the bond developed by the future guide dogs towards their puppy raisers and to assess the appropriateness of using scales measuring the emotional state of the animals through its levels of sensitivity and impulsivity in this particular context, in which several people share phases of dog development. The study was conducted in collaboration with the Frederic Gaillanne Foundation (L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, France), which is the first school in Europe to train guide dogs only for children with visual impairment and assistance dogs for children with developmental disabilities.
Eight dogs, including 5 females and 3 males St. Pierre dogs from the Frederic Gaillanne Foundation participated in the study with their puppy raiser. They were all neutered and had a mean age of 24 months (± 6 months). To be included in this study, they had to live with their foster family for at least 3 months and not have experienced any major change in their routine before the test. They all started their guide dog training 7 months ago. They are at the foundation from Monday to Friday, then they go back to their host families on weekends.
The experimental environment was as close as possible to the standards used in the SST-R [21,22]. The room (4.9 m × 4.1 m), which was located at the Clinical Ethology and Animal Welfare Centre (CECBA) of the Research Institute in Semiochemistry and Applied Ethology (IRSEA), was unfamiliar to the dogs. The room was equipped with 2 chairs, 3 toys, 1 water bowl and 2 cameras (Figure 1). All tests were performed in the late morning between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., and only 1 test was performed per day to avoid any possible olfactory influence.
Figure 1: The experimental room was equipped with two chairs, three dog toys, a water bowl and two video cameras. Zone A (1.40 m x 1.30 m) = Door Proximity Area.
The puppy raiser participating in the experiment had previously received and completed two questionnaires-the Positive and Negative Assessment Scale for dogs (PANAS)  and the Dog Impulsivity Assessment Scale (DIAS) -via Google Forms; these scales measure the levels of sensitivity and impulsivity of dogs, respectively. The PANAS consists of 21 items, and the DIAS consists of 18 items. Both questionnaires use a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”. A “don’t know/not applicable” option was also possible. The lead educator for each dog was also asked to complete the PANAS and DIAS. The experiment was based on the modified version of the Ainsworth SST adapted to dogs [15,17] and was video recorded. The experimental phase was divided into the episodes described in Table 1. The same woman played the role of the stranger in all scenarios as described in the literature [7,12,16]. All participants signed an authorization to acquire, reproduce and broadcast images.
All tests were filmed and analysed twice by the same person at 6-month intervals to evaluate intraobserver reliability. Behavioural Observation Research Interactive Software (BORIS)  was used with the 5-second interval scan sampling method for the 7 episodes. Based on previous studies [4,12,13], the behaviours described in Table 2 were noted and organized into categories. These behaviours were mutually exclusive, except for “physical contact” and “greeting behaviour”, which could be associated with each other. The duration of “greeting behaviour” and “door proximity” was also collected. The sensitivity (PANAS) and impulsivity (DIAS) questionnaires were scored according to the method described by the authors [20,24], yielding scores between 0 and 1. The two scales comprise different factors and the following scores:
1. The DIAS includes 4 scores: “behavioural regulation”,
“aggression/response to novelty”, “responsiveness” and
2. The PANAS includes 5 scores: “negative activation” and “positive activation”, itself composed of “energy and interest”, “persistence” and “excitement” scores.
The analyses were carried out using SAS 9.4 software Copyright (c) 2002-2012 by SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC, USA. The significance threshold was classically fixed at 5%.
Evaluation of attachment
Intraobserver reliability between the 2 observations separated by a 6-month interval was assessed for each parameter (“secure base effect”, “comfort seeking”, “proximity seeking”, “search behaviour”, “greeting behaviour” and “door proximity”). Pearson correlation coefficients were calculated if the hypothesis of normality of the parameters being compared was verified; otherwise, Spearman correlation coefficients were calculated. The behaviours “physical contact”, “proximity seeking”, and “greeting behaviour” were analysed using a 2 x 2 comparison between the puppy raiser and the stranger. For this purpose, after checking the normality conditions, Student’s t-test for matched samples was carried out using the t-test procedure. The behaviours “secure base effect” and “search behaviour” were compared between episodes 2 and 4 and episodes 3 and 6, respectively. The “door proximity” behaviour was analysed under 3 conditions: when the dog was alone (episode 5), when the dog was in the presence of the puppy raiser (the average of episodes 2, 4, and 7), and when the dog was in the presence of only the stranger (the average of episodes 3 and 6). To do this, the assumption of normality was tested using the residual diagnostics plots and the UNIVARIATE procedure. Comparisons between conditions were performed with a general linear model (GLM) using the MIXED procedure to consider repeated measurements. The best variance-covariance matrix was selected by minimizing the AICC and BIC of the model. When a significant difference was observed, multiple comparisons were made using the Tukey- Kramer test using the LSMEANS statement.
Evaluation of psychometric scales
Regarding the DIAS and PANAS questionnaires, 2 x 2 correlations were made between the responses of the puppy raisers and educators for the overall scores and each of the factors. For this purpose, when normality was verified using the UNIVARIATE procedure on SAS software, the Pearson correlation coefficient was calculated using the CORR procedure. Normality was not verified for the “aggression/response to novelty” factors or the overall DIAS score, and the Spearman correlation coefficient using the CORR procedure was preferred. According to Martin and Bateson (2007), r = 0.4-0.7 indicates a moderate correlation (substantial relationship), r = 0.7-0.9 indicates a high correlation (marked relationship) and r = 0.9-1.0 indicates a very high correlation (very dependable relationship). Finally, the association was evaluated by computing the square of the correlation coefficient.
Strange Situation Test
The statistical analysis of intraobserver reliability revealed a strong association (≥ 80%) between the observations for each parameter, with a minimum correlation of 0.89 (significance test; p<0.001). The results obtained for the “secure base effect” highlighted significant differences between episodes (GLMM; DF=2; F=4.66; p=0.03), with behaviours expressed more often when the puppy raiser was present with the stranger than when the dog was alone with the stranger (Tukey-Kr; DF=13.9; t=3.05; p=0.02) (Figure 2). “Proximity seeking” behaviours were also more common in the presence of the puppy raiser than in the presence of the stranger (Student’s t-test; DF=1; t=2.66; p=0.03). To support these results, significant differences were found between episodes for “search behaviour” (GLMM; DF=3; F=11.00; p=0.01) and “door proximity” (GLMM; DF=2; F=11.98; p<0.001). These behaviours were significantly less common in the presence of the puppy raiser and when the dog was in the presence of the stranger than when the dog was alone see Figure 3. Contrary to findings reported in the literature , data obtained for “greeting behaviour” were not significantly different across episodes (Student’s t-test; DF=1; t=0.61; p=0.56), and a tendency was found for “physical contact” towards the stranger (Student’s t-test; DF=1; t=-2.14; p=0.07).
Figure 2: Episode effect on secure base effect. The mean ± standard error. S = Stranger; PR = Puppy Raiser; D = Dog. *p < 0.05.
Figure 3: Episode effect on search behaviour. The mean ± standard error. S = Stranger; PR = Puppy Raiser; D = dog. *p < 0.05; **p < 0.01.
On the psychometric scales, no significant positive correlation was found between the responses of puppy raisers and educators. However, moderate negative correlations were detected for the reactivity score (r = -0.69; p = 0.06) and aggressiveness/response to novelty (Tables 3,4).
Table 3: Table of descriptive data and correlations between the results of the scores on the DIAS completed by the puppy raisers (PR) and the educators (ED).
Table 4: Table of descriptive data and correlations between the results of the scores on the PANAS completed by the puppy raisers (PR) and the educators (ED).
The objectives of this preliminary study were to investigate
attachment behaviours in guide dogs and determine whether
the impulsivity and sensitivity scales could be reliable indicators
of the emotional state of these animals in this context of sharedcustody
dogs. The attachment relationships between dogs and
their puppy raisers were assessed using the modified version of
the Ainsworth SST-R. In this study, no inappropriate or pathological
attachment was observed in the dogs, who expressed a preference
for their puppy raisers. Regarding the psychometric scales, both
the educators and the foster family were asked to complete the
questionnaires to compare scores, but unexpectedly, no correlation
was found, asking about the most reliable person to answer these
In the results obtained for the attachment test, comparisons of “secure base effect” behaviours according to episode revealed a higher occurrence of these behaviours in episode 2 (stranger and puppy raiser) than in episode 3 (stranger). This indicates that in the presence of an unknown person, puppy raisers facilitate their puppies’ coping strategies, defined in psychology as a set of cognitive and behavioural efforts that individuals deploy in response to environmental variations they assess to be threatening. The presence of their attachment figure allows dogs to focus on the environment and interact with it more serenely. No significant differences in the “secure base effect” were found between episodes in which the dog was alone with the stranger (episode 3) and when it was alone with its puppy raiser (episode 4), unlike the results found and for both pet and working dogs (search and rescue dogs). In the present study, the presence of a stranger without established attachment with the dog did not prevent the dog from interacting confidently with the environment. Due to their training background, these dogs are subject to strong socialization and to high human contact from an early age and are not alone more than 4 hours per day. Subjects in the study  had a less disturbed routine, spending a good part of their days with only their owner(s) or alone at home, which could explain this discrepancy in results. Episodes 2 (stranger and puppy raiser) and 4 (puppy raiser) were also similar, as expected. Indeed, as long as the puppy raiser was present, the company of a stranger did not have a significant impact on the behaviours, indicating a secure base effect.
Despite a similar secure base effect in episodes 3 and 4, the dogs exhibited more searching behaviours, including “door orientation”, when the puppy raiser was not in the room (episode 3). And he has shown that with secure attachment, searching behaviours are more common in the absence of the owner. In this study, a preference for the puppy raiser should be noted, and the preference may result in a functional attachment. These behaviours also occurred more often when the subjects were alone in the room than when in the presence of only the stranger. This observation may show that a person, even if unknown, is able to reduce the expression of certain behaviours expected during a separation from the owner. Some difficulty in remaining alone may be expected if attachment is too strong, as mentioned above. The conclusions are similar for time spent near the door; human presence was preferred over being alone, resulting in a large amount of time spent in the area near the door when the dog was alone.
In accordance with what is found in the literature [7,14] , more “proximity seeking” behaviour was exhibited towards the puppy raiser than towards the stranger during the test. These behaviours are representative of a visual search, looking for someone. This could represent the previously mentioned coping strategy, facilitating the return to exploration or other interactions with the environment (a secure base effect) after searching for the attachment figure. Physical contact, which is associated with an attachment bond [15,22], was not significantly higher for the puppy raiser and even showed a reverse trend during the test. In the absence of their puppy raiser, the dogs tended to interact with the unknown person through physical contact while performing searching behaviours (orientation towards the door, proximity to the door) simultaneously. The dogs moved between the door and the person, so physical contact could be interpreted here as a sign of seeking comfort and therefore be emotionally palliative, as previously discussed and is on one of their study. Finally, the times spent greeting the puppy raiser and the stranger when they entered the room were also comparable, contrary to expectations and the results, which showed that dogs generally spend more time greeting and in physical contact with their owners. The training received by these dogs and breed selection (St. Pierre) aim to foster close relationships between these animals and humans and to encourage the dogs to spontaneously seek contact, even with unknown people, which could justify these results.
One of the most important steps in the breeding of a guide dog is the period during which it lives with its foster family , which is why this study focused on the relationship that dogs can establish with their primary raisers. The foster family represents a particular situation in which the puppy raiser is not the real owner of the animal. Foster families, unlike dogs, are warned of the temporary nature of the relationship and tend to develop an avoidant type of attachment as a form of resistance in contrast to the animal, which develops attachment as any other puppy would with its new family. Accordingly, the first bonds of attachment that the animal establishes with humans-the puppy raiser in this casemay impact the mental balance of the dog and the implementation of coping strategies adapted to its work as a guide dog, allowing it to effectively manage daily challenges and respond adequately to unforeseen circumstances. Thus, the foster family is considered a very important element in the breeding of future guide dogs . In this pilot study, the attachment between the dogs and their puppy raiser seemed balanced and functional, as the dogs recognized their puppy raiser as the person caring for them (feeding them, playing, etc.). The dogs also seemed to manage the strange episodes in the presence of an unknown person.
These dogs, generally benefiting from good socialization, would have greater interest in foreign persons than do pets, which agrees with the results of previous studies [5,16]. Desire for human contact makes it easier for these dogs to compensate and bridge the gap with another human when their puppy raiser is absent. They frequently experience separations from their puppy raiser (training period with the educator at school) and interact with different people. It is important to note that these changing environments may raise questions about their well-being and the consequences it may have on the quality of their work. Several works [18,17] have shown that good welfare is linked to abilities and training performance in guide dogs. For this reason, it would be interesting to assess, in a future study, the impact of these multiple separations on the welfare of the dogs and thus on their ability to perform as guide dogs.
Puppy raisers and educators also completed psychometric scales to assess levels of impulsivity (DIAS) and sensibility (PANAS). A good emotional balance is fundamental to obtaining a good guide dog . The aim here was therefore to determine whether these scales could be relevant tools and good indicators of the emotional state and so of the success of these dogs. No statistical positive correlation was found between the scores given by the educators and the puppy raisers in this context. In particular, “reactivity” and “aggressiveness/response to novelty” showed a moderate negative correlation. The reactivity score was higher in the answers of foster families answer, and the aggressiveness score was in those of the trainer. Several factors could explain these results. Indeed, even if the dogs live with the foster families, dog trainers are more experienced in evaluating dogs and could tend to be more demanding towards them because certain behavioural traits must be exhibited before a deadline in order for a dog to receive its certification. Another reason could be that the dogs act differently depending on their environment. They could learn that the foster family’s home is a more permissive environment than the guide dog school. The limits given by the educator may be more specific, clearer and more comprehensible than those given by foster families. Finally, dogs are not exposed to the same stimulations in the same way. In fact, dog trainers are used to anticipating dogs’ reactions to external stimulation, which may reduce the reactivity of the dog, but puppy raisers have less experience in this domain.
In this context, it is difficult to use these psychometric scales on guide dogs in an ongoing training program. It would be interesting to use a larger sample to determine whether there is a relationship between the results of these scales (from puppy raisers or dog trainers) and a dog’s success, and whether the type of relationship established with the puppy raiser enables a lasting and complementary guide dog/child dyad. These results could be useful for identifying dogs with undesirable behaviours as soon as possible, to exclude them from the training program to avoid financial losses, or to focus the education on problematic behaviours.
Funding: This research received no external funding.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
The authors would like to thank the Frederic Gaillanne Foundation, the foster families and the dogs for their collaboration and participation, Cécile Bienboire-Frosini and Míriam Marcet-Rius for their review of the manuscript and American Journal Experts (AJE) for the English editing.
This project was approved by the Research Institute in Semiochemistry and Applied Ethology (IRSEA) Ethics Committee (approval number CE_2020_01_ADOB01).
Bio chemistryUniversity of Texas Medical Branch, USA
Department of Criminal JusticeLiberty University, USA
Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Kentucky, USA
Department of MedicineGally International Biomedical Research & Consulting LLC, USA
Department of Urbanisation and AgriculturalMontreal university, USA
Oral & Maxillofacial PathologyNew York University, USA
Gastroenterology and HepatologyUniversity of Alabama, UK
Department of MedicineUniversities of Bradford, UK
OncologyCirculogene Theranostics, England
Radiation ChemistryNational University of Mexico, USA
Analytical ChemistryWentworth Institute of Technology, USA
Minimally Invasive SurgeryMercer University school of Medicine, USA
Pediatric DentistryUniversity of Athens , Greece
The annual scholar awards from Lupine Publishers honor a selected number Read More...