Journal Article: Where’s the Stress From?

Title: Comparison of behavioral and physiological responses of dogs wearing two different types of collar.

Authors: Philip Ogburn, Stephanie Crouse, Frank Martin, Katherine Houpt

Published: February 1998 in Applied Animal Behavior Science

General overview: This research compared behavioral (head position, ear position, tail position and posture) and physiological (blood pressure, pulse rate, respiratory rate and pupil diameter) responses of dogs wearing a head collar (like a Gentle Leader collar) and a buckle collar during brief obedience trials (walking, sitting and turning). The authors found that while there was no significant difference between the physiological responses of dogs to the different collars, the buckle collar resulted in more unruly behaviors (i.e. leash pulling) and the head collar resulted in more pawing at the head and ears and less eye contact with the handler.

My comments:

I noticed a major flaw with this paper right at the beginning of the Methods section: their study population was poorly defined. I believe these dogs are unowned dogs (perhaps from an animal control facility?) because the authors mention that each dog experienced identical housing, feeding, animal care personnel and exercising routines. Furthermore, the authors say that they have no history on each dogs’ previous exposure to head collars but to their knowledge, none of the dogs have worn a head collar before. So…with no history, it’s safe to assume the none of the dogs had ever worn a head collar? That seems like an unscientific conclusion to me.

The researchers’ methodology doesn’t seem awful (each dog was used as its own control: all dogs were tested with a head collar and with a buckle collar, randomly assigned to be test with either collar first). Some of the terminology in the paper seems outdated: the researchers deem a dog “subordinate” or “dominate” based on body posture at the end of testing (to my knowledge, it’s not appropriate to label a dog “subordinate” or “dominate” because those terms describe reactions to situations, not overall temperaments). The authors also reference a few ecological studies that have since been highly refuted to legitimize the way head collars work. But this paper is sixteen years old!

The biggest red flag in this paper is the combination of the findings that no physiological difference was detected between collars but an overall trend of diminishing physiological responses during the test. Since all dogs experienced the same care routines, I believe it is safe to say these dogs were being housed in a kennel situation. Kennels can be extremely stressful housing environment for dogs because they are unfamiliar (to many dogs), don’t allow for much positive human contact and involve many foreign sounds and smells. The fact that blood pressure and respiratory rate and etc. went down during the test regardless of treatment or control might be the result of the dog being removed from their kennel and having a calm interaction with a human.

I was looking forward to reading this study because while I have read papers that looked worse alternatives to buckle collars, this is the first that I’ve seen evaluate a potentially better substitute. Because of the substantially under-described study population, however, I fail to see how this paper contributes all that much besides evidence that dogs wearing head collars do indeed paw their head/nose more than those wearing buckle collars, and that buckle collar-wearing dogs pull more.

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