The Study of Human-Animal Interactions The CAIRC Scholarship Program Summary of the Past Researches
Summary of the Past Scholarship Research
From "Letter from CAIRC" July 2004
Research Theme:" A Neuroscientific Understanding of Dog Training to Develop Better Interactions between Humans and Dogs"
Nobuyo Otani
Researcher, New Institute of Animal Science
Approximately 11.14 million dogs currently live in Japanese households (according to a fiscal 2003 study by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, Japan), and the number is increasing year by year. As relationships between humans and dogs thus deepen, a number of new issues are emerging. Among the causes are problem behaviors such as excessive barking and physical aggression, which are factors behind a recent increase in dog abandonment. Compared with Europe and the United States, awareness of dog training in Japanese society is still rather low. Taking this state of affairs into consideration, Otani’s research group conducted a study on the effectiveness of dog training methods.

“In the neurological pathway by which stimulation is transmitted in animals, stimulus is first applied to the organism from the external environment, and the corresponding information is received by the upper central nervous system and transmitted to the hypothalamus,” began Otani. “A biological reaction is then brought about through the autonomic nervous system, that is, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves. We decided to determine whether normal biological reactions were taking place by measuring urine concentrations of catecholamine, an index for the assessment of autonomic nervous activity.

“The experiment was divided broadly into three phases. In the first, urine samples were taken from the subjects before and after training in obedience of basic commands such as ‘Sit,’ ‘Wait,’ and ‘Down.’ The samples were then tested for noradrenaline (NA) and adrenaline (A) concentrations. The results showed normal correlations in NA and A levels before and after training.

“In the next phase of the experiment, individuals were divided into a group exhibiting aggressive behavior, another that barked excessively, and a control group,” Otani explained. “Urine samples were taken at rest, and then after exercise stress consisting of running at about 25 kilometers per hour for 20 to 30 minutes. As expected, NA and A levels in both sets of samples from the control group correlated normally. The results for the groups exhibiting problem behavior were clearly different from the normal post-exercise levels found in the control group samples. Abnormalities such as unusually high NA concentrations at rest were detected, and no correlations comparable to those of the control group were found.”

Otani thus indicated the possibility that dogs exhibiting problem behavior suffer from some sort of defect in certain autonomic nervous system responses. “In addition, we also tested a group of subjects that had previously exhibited problem behavior, which had improved to some extent after the dogs underwent obedience training,” she continued. “The results showed that the low rate of correlations in NA and A levels in urine samples taken at rest improved during training to the point that they were close to those of the control group. We would now like to further examine whether problem behavior resulting from defects in autonomic nervous system responses can be improved by correcting the underlying defect.”

Otani believes that in developing more effective training methods and bringing about early improvement of problem behavior, it will be crucial to raise the level of training among pet dogs. These methods can also be adapted to high-level training such as that for service dogs. By observing autonomic nervous system responses to basic training, it may be possible to more rapidly carry out the selection process that determines which dogs have the aptitude for assistive service.