Evaluation of indicators of acute emotional states in dogs

A complete assessment of animal welfare requires not just an understanding of negative emotional states, such as fear and anxiety, but also of positive states, such as calmness and happiness. However, few studies have identified accurate and reliable indicators of positive emotional states in dogs. This study aimed to identify parameters that may serve as indicators of short-term emotional states in dogs. Using a cross-over design, 60 dogs living at a research facility were exposed to six different 10-min scenarios expected to elicit responses varying in emotional valence and arousal. A range of behavioural and physiological parameters were collected and their relationship to anticipated emotional valence and arousal was analysed using linear and logistic mixed models. Cortisol, adrenocorticotropic hormone, heart rate variability, panting, whining, and body shake all demonstrated significant differences based on arousal levels, but only within negative valence scenarios. Scores from a qualitative behavioural assessment (QBA) were associated with both emotional valence and arousal and were considered the best indicator of positive valence. Activity, ear temperature, and sitting were associated with positive high arousal, although this may have been influenced by differing levels of movement induced during these scenarios. Meanwhile, heart rate, secretory immunoglobulin A, standing and lying all showed similar changes associated with arousal for both positive and negative valence scenarios. This study provides a critical first step towards identifying evidence-based indicators of short-term emotional states in dogs, while highlighting considerations that should be made when employing these parameters, including the influence of coder bias, food provision, exercise, and external temperature. Overall, it is recommended future dog emotion and welfare research use a combination of parameters including indicators of both emotional valence and arousal.

Hannah E Flint 1Jennifer E Weller 2Nia Parry-Howells 2Zack W Ellerby 2Stephanie L McKay 2Tammie King 2

Sci Rep. 2024 Mar 17;14(1): 6406.doi: 10.1038/s41598-024-56859-9.

1Waltham Petcare Science Institute, Waltham on the Wolds, LE14 4RT, UK. hannah.flint@effem.com.

2Waltham Petcare Science Institute, Waltham on the Wolds, LE14 4RT, UK.

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