Saturday, May 25, 2013

Presents for Bo: President Can’t Keep Most Dog-Related Gifts from Foreign Leaders

On May 24, the Office of the Chief of Protocol released a list of gifts that were accepted by President Obama and other high officials from foreign leaders in 2010. From Doris Leuthard, President of the Swiss Confederation, the President received a red leather dog collar and leash with silver-colored fastenings.  The circumstance justifying acceptance was that “non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government.”  That was true of the other two dog-related gifts, one of which included a bronze water-dog statue (presumably a Portuguese water dog), and a ceramic dog statue from Poland. 

Under federal law, 5 U.S.C. 7342, federal employees, including the President, Vice President, their wives and dependents, are not to accept gifts from foreign governments and are generally supposed to return them.  Congress recognizes, however, that refusing a gift may cause offense or embarrassment “or otherwise adversely affect foreign relations of the United States,” so in such a case, the employee is to turn the item over to his or her employing agency, which may find a use for it or pass it on to the General Services Administration. A gift of “minimal value tendered and received as a souvenir or mark of courtesy” may be retained, however. Minimal value is $100 or less.   

The only item that the President retained for himself was the Polish dog statue, presumably because it was valued at less than $100 (though the overall gift was more).  Thus, the leather dog collar and leash from Switzerland apparently went into the archives, as did the bronze Portuguese water-dog statue.  The collar and leash might have been useful, while the water-dog statue might have actually looked like Bo, the current White House dog. Unfortunately for the President and his family, some assessment must have determined that each was worth more than $100.   

These gifts were trivial in amount compared to some sent to high officials.  Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, received an emerald and diamond bracelet, necklace, earrings, and ring from His Royal Highness King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  These items were valued at $400,000.  By contrast, the most valuable gift that President Obama got was a metal panel with cityscape view of Singapore, which was valued at $9,000.

The Office of the Chief of Protocol lists the jewelry Hillary received from the Saudi prince as “pending transfer to the General Services Administration.” The statute (5 U.S.C. 7342(c)(2)) provides that the official has 60 days from accepting the gift to turn it over to his or her employing agency or, subject to the approval of the employing agency, deposit the gift with that agency for official use. Thus, Hillary could not offend the Saudi prince and wear the jewelry for 60 days before turning it over to the State Department, which, finding no official use (presumably John Kerry gave no serious consideration to wearing the items), is passing it on to the GSA. 

Below is a table of the dog-related gifts received by the President in 2010, as well as the most valuable gift recorded for that year.    

Dog-Related Gifts to President Obama
Estimated Value /Disposition
Circumstances Justifying Acceptance
Longines silver-colored watch with brown band, presented in brown presentation box. Red leather dog collar and leash with silver-colored fastenings

Archives Foreign
Doris Leuthard, President of the Swiss Confederation.
Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government.
W&J Graham’s Port 1961 Single Harvest Tawny Port set, containing wine in red leather bottle holder and an informational booklet, presented in a rectangular wooden box that has ‘‘Graham’s Single Harvest 1961’’ carved into top and sides. Set of four Atlantis crystal wine glasses and one crystal decanter presented in 11″ × 23″ × 10″ wooden box. Two bottles of Quinta de Noval 2008 Vintage Porto wine. Bronze water-dog statue on wooden base

Box is in White House Gift Office; Perishable Goods Handled Pursuant to U.S. Secret Service Policy.

Professor Anı´bal Cavaco Silva, President of the Portuguese Republic.
Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government.
4.5″ × 6″ black and white ceramic Cmielow dog figurine, presented in a wooden presentation box. Book, title: ‘‘Fryderyk Chopin.’’ 2.5″ × 3″ circular miniature portrait of Chopin in a Burl Veneer frame. Two holiday ornaments.

Ceramic Dog Retained by President Obama.
His Excellency Bronislaw
Komorowski, President of the Republic of Poland.
Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government.
Most Valuable Gift of 2010 (to Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State)

Emerald and diamond bracelet, necklace, earrings, and ring. Rec’d—2/15/2010.

Pending Transfer to General Services Administration
His Royal Highness King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government.

The statute (5 U.S.C. 7342(f)(1)) provides that not later than January 31 of each year, “each employing agency or its delegate shall compile a listing of all statement filed during the preceding year by the employees of that agency … and shall transmit such listing to the Secretary of State who shall publish a comprehensive listing of all such statements in the Federal Register.”  Since the gifts from 2010 are being published at least two years after the January 31 deadline, either the agencies are not getting information to the State Department, or the State Department is dallying around before publishing the lists in the Federal Register. There's probably nothing nefarious here, but it will be interesting to see if any Republicans think so.     

78 Fed. Reg. 31714 (May 24, 2013).    

In 2014, the State Department reported only one dog-related gift in 2013,two 8: x 5" multi-colored porcelain Chinese temple dogs estimated to be worth $450.  They were received by the President on March 26, 2013 from "His Excellency Wang Qishan, Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Par of China.  "Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government." 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

He Will Be Missed by His Jack Russell: Pets as Bereaved Survivors in Obituaries

Every once in a while I come across a study that I wish I had thought of doing myself.  Such is the case with a paper that appeared in the latest issue of the journal Anthrozoös about companion animals in obituaries.  Four researchers, two from universities in Virginia, one from a university in Maryland, and one from the Institut für angewandte Ethologie und Tierpsychologie in Switzerland, undertook such a study, noting that in newspapers “pets have joined the list of bereaved survivors in the obituaries.”

Fictive Kin

The researchers categorize pets as a type of “fictive kin,” a term used by anthropologists and sociologists to describe pseudo- or pretend relatives, noting that there are “ample references in the literature to companion animals being perceived as and treated as fictive kin or family members.”  Pets are now common in wedding photos and have even served as ring bearers. I am probably taking a risk by admitting that when my wife and I were married in Brooklyn Heights, the wedding cake was crowned by a ceramic bride and groom and, in front of the bride, a small ceramic cat representing Arthur, my wife’s cat at the time and for a long time the only pet in our marriage. 

Newspaper Obituaries

The authors of this study looked at obituaries published in the Washington Post, the Richmond Times Dispatch, and the Zurich TagesAnzeiger (Daily News) from October 8, 2008, through January 7, 2009.  All obituaries were searched for mention of a survivor that was a companion animal or where, in lieu of flowers, donations were requested to be made to an animal-related organization, or both.  After reading hard copies of the three newspapers for a month, the researchers shifted to searching online postings for the following keywords: dog, cat, pet, animal, and companion.  Generally such searches would bring up any obituary that referred to an animal, though the authors acknowledge that some references to birds, parrots, horses, and other animals might have been missed.  Because some obituaries run for several days in a row, cross-reference checks were made in order to avoid duplication.  

The Zurich Daily News had only one obituary in the three-month period that mentioned a pet survivor, which happened to be a cat owned by a man.  A few Swiss obituaries mentioned animal charities. Apparently referring to animals in obituaries has not caught on in Europe.  

Of 11,818 obituaries searched, 260 (2.2%) listed pet survivors or suggested donations to charities.  Of these, 148 (57%) listed a pet survivor, while 130 (50%) suggested donations.  Males and female decedents were about even in this regard.  More than half of surviving animals mentioned in the obituaries were dogs.  Pet survivors were listed primarily by name.  Charities included humane societies, breed-specific rescue organizations, and animal support groups.  PETA and the American Kennel Club were among recommended recipients. 

“Pet” as a term was rarely used in obituaries.  Companion animals were often listed as survivors, sometimes even preceding actual relatives.  An 85-year-old woman was survived by two nieces, a nephew, and “a loyal canine companion, Shirley.”  One obituary listed four daughters in order, the last two, Lily and Lucy, being canine.  Sometimes granddogs were listed.  One man was said to have left “behind his beloved granddogs, Brie Sherwin and Otis Huddleton.  His first non-furry grandchild will arrive in May.” 

Obituaries with pet references were for people as young as 12 and as old as 100.  Animals included birds, cats, cattle, cows, dogs, donkeys, horses, and parrots.  The companions were described as “faithful,” “ever-faithful,” “loving,” “loyal,” “beloved,” “devoted,” and “a super pet.” 

The effect of the subject’s death on a pet was sometimes stated:

“He will be missed by his Jack Russell Terriers, Dickens, Belle, and Sunshine.” 
“He will be missed by his faithful Labrador Retrievers, Molly and Jenny.” 
“Also missing her and looking for her are her rescue animals, a dog, Miss Priss, and two cats, Sylvester and Princess.”
“He will be sorely missed by Molly, his ever-present cocker spaniel companion.”

The deceased was sometimes lauded for his or her love of animals.  One woman was remembered “for her gentle and loving nature which embraced not only family and friends but any animal in her care as well.”

“Wayne was an avid fisherman and enjoyed time with his beloved dogs, the late Bubba and Boomer, as well as Bear.”  Thus, even dogs predeceasing the owner were sometimes remembered. 

“June was very active in the dog community, often fostering dogs and volunteering for the collie club.”

“Linda’s love for animals generated a houseful of rescued dogs, cats, birds, and a tortoise.”

Sometimes the survivors sought to assure the deceased regarding the care surviving pets were receiving:

“We want him to know we will take care of his beloved pets, Pully and L.C.”

One obituary mentioned pets at the decedent's deathbed:

“She passed peacefully in her home attended by her loved ones and faithful dogs.”

Obituaries sometimes included pictures of the deceased with a pet. 


When it comes my time to become a few lines in a newspaper, I hope that someone remembers to mention Chloe, who has certainly achieved the status of fictive kin with my wife and me.  Perhaps the two Cocker Spaniels I grew up with, Sandy and Blackie, are too far back in my history to be appropriate for such a mention, but in any case my father wrote short pieces when they died, both of which achieved some lasting print memory by being combined as the Introduction to The Complete Book of Dogs. 

Perhaps there should also be mention of Arthur and Jack, the first being the cat on the wedding cake, the second a cat my wife and I got later.  I wrote a farewell to Jack here two years ago, the only blog in a site on dog issues that is devoted solely to a cat.  

The researchers acknowledge that more studies will be needed to determine if mention of companion animals in obituaries represents a steadily increasing trend.  It is to be hoped that they will regularly update this interesting research.  They might also include some analysis of pet obituaries appearing in newspapers, an issue that has become contentious among editors of some papers. In any case, the desire to be remembered for our relationship with pets is ancient, as shown by the first century BC funerary monument from Alexandria (now in the Louvre) reproduced here.  Dozens of similar monuments from the Greco-Roman world can be found in museums throughout the world.   
Cindy C. Wilson, F. Ellen Netting, Dennis C. Turner, and Cara H. Olsen. (2013). Companion Animals in Obituaries: An Exploratory Study. Anthrozoös, 26(2), 227-236.  

See also Jill R.D. MacKay, Janice Moore and Felicity Huntingford (2016). Characterizing the Data in Online Companion-dog Obituaries to Assess Their Usefulness as a Source of Information about Human-Animal Bonds.  Anthrozoos, 29(3), 431-440. 

Thanks to Eric Krieger, Ronald Keats, Suzanne Boule, and Dennis Civiello for comments and suggestions. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Only 40% of German Shepherd Police Dogs in New Zealand Serve Until Scheduled Retirement

A survey of handlers of German shepherd police dogs in New Zealand found that although dogs were scheduled to retire at eight years of age, only 40% actually remained in service that long.  Of 182 dogs on which information was gathered, 48 were still in service, while 94 were in retirement, 24 had been euthanized, 11 had died, and five had been killed.  Of the 94 in retirement, 61 had retired because of inability to cope with the physical demands of the work.  Of these 61, 42 had degenerative musculoskeletal and lumbo-sacral diseases.  Thus, German shepherd dogs were often taken out of service because of skeletal conditions, with the average age at which dogs discontinued service being 6.6 years, nearly a year and a half before they had been scheduled to retire.   
The research, conducted by veterinarians at the Massey University in New Zealand as well as two members of the New Zealand Police Dog Section in Trentham, New Zealand (Worth et al., citation below), argued that their research meant that greater efforts should be made to find ways to lower the incidence of bone diseases in police working dogs.  They did not discuss the possibility that the research might also indicate that, at least for some functions, German shepherds may not be the ideal breed from which to develop police dogs.   

New Zealand Police Dog Section

The New Zealand Police Dog Section uses German shepherds for tracking, patrol, and suspect apprehension.  According to an official of the Section, approximately NZ$25,000 (about US$21,000) is invested in breeding and training a dog for police work. New Zealand began using police dogs in 1956 after recruiting Sergeant Frank Riley from the English County Constabulary of Surrey.   The first drug-detection training course was held in 1976, followed by explosive-detection training in 1977.  Suspect apprehension was introduced in 1992, accelerant detection in 1997, and search and rescue in 1998.  There are currently 115 New Zealand police dog handlers, with from 90 to 95 operational dogs and 10 to 15 in training at any one time. 

A survey of police dog handlers was necessary because reasons for withdrawal of dogs from service in the country are not documented in official records.  Under Section policy, when a dog reaches seven years of age, a replacement is found and started through the training process.  From 7.5 years of age onwards, a dog is replaced according to logistical considerations.  Some dogs work longer if a replacement is not yet available.  Most dogs in the survey were male, and most remained intact during service. 

Prior Studies of Police and Military Dog Retirement

The authors note that there have been few published studies regarding the reasons for retirement of police dogs from service.  Two Norwegian authors (H. Kippenes and J. Gondalen, 1999) looked at 228 German shepherds from 1985 to 1995, finding that 97 dogs retired early (before ten years old), 38 of which did so because of skeletal disease.  Neoplasia accounted for 13 dogs retiring early.  Police dogs were found in that study to be at higher risk for skeletal lesions that were pet animals. 

A study by veterinarians at Lackland Air Force Base (Moore et al., citation below) looked at the records of 927 military working dogs (MWDs) that had died over a four-year period from 1993 through 1996, finding that the mean age at death was 10.06 years, though age at death increased steadily during the period studied.  One dog had lived to be nearly 15.  A surprisingly high percent, 85.2% (790/927), had been euthanized.  Dogs that died naturally averaged just over 8½ years.  Castrated males lived significantly longer, averaging 10½ years, than either spayed females (10.02 years) or sexually intact males (9.97 years). (There were no sexually intact females in the study population.)

The Lackland study found that Belgian shepherds made up a strong majority (61.5%) of the MWDs in the study. They did not live as long as German shepherds.  Mean age at death for dogs in the sporting and hound breeds (retrievers, pointers, and beagles) was significantly greater than mean age of dogs in the herding and working dog breeds (shepherds, Rottweilers, Bouvier des Flanders, Schnauzers, Dobermans).  The Lackland researchers noted that “sporting and hound breeds are used by the military for contraband detection, whereas herding and working breeds are dual-trained to also perform patrol-attack roles.”  They considered that this workload differential may influence longevity, but also that “breed differences in disease risk may favor sporting breed dogs.”  German shepherds were found more prone to spinal cord disease than Belgian Malinois.  Mean age at death or euthanasia was tabulated by breed as follows:

Number (%)
Mean Age
Range in Years
Belgian shepherd
570 (61.5%)
2.07 – 14.34
German shepherd
294 (20.6%)
2.04 – 14.44
Dutch shepherd
18 (1.9%)
4.62 – 12.40
German shepherd cross
13 (1.4%)
4.26 – 13.73
Labrador retriever
13 (1.4%)
11.2 – 14.41
10 (1.1%)
9.07 – 12.68
Bouvier des Flandres
9 (1.0%)
8.95 – 12.35
Giant Schnauzer
2 (0.3%)
8.61 – 11.14
2 (0.2%)
13.22 – 14.71
Labrador retriever cross
2 (0.2%)
13.99 – 14.57
Doberman pinscher
1 (0.1%)
Golden retriever
1 (0.1%)
English pointer
1 (0.1%)

The authors of the study note that Belgian shepherds primarily resembled the Malinois, “although Belgian Tervuren are not uncommon.” 

A smaller study, also conducted at Lackland Air Force Base (Evans et al., citation below), looked at 268 MWDs that were discharged from service from 2000 to 2004 and found that the median age at discharge for German shepherds (8.59 years) was significantly lower than the median age at discharge of Belgian Malinois (10.61 years). The study found that when dogs were discharged at less than five years, the reason was most often for behavioral problems. 

It is not clear what explains why the two Lackland studies were inconsistent on the longevity of Belgian and German shepherds, with the earlier study (1993-1996) finding German shepherds living longer than Belgian shepherds but the later study (2000-2004) finding them being discharged sooner.  The differences in results in the two studies conducted only a few years apart have been noticed by other researchers.  (See Wahl et al., citation below.) 

Why New Zealand Dogs Left Service

The following table, adapted from the New Zealand study, provides detail as to why dogs left service.

Number (%)
Major Reason
Number per Subcategory
94 (70%)
Inability to meet physical demands

Planned retirement due to age

Loss of tracking


Behavioral problems

Poor bite work
24 (18%)
Medical problems

Behavioral problems

11 (8%)
Gastric dilation/volvulus


5 (5%)
Shot on duty

Motor vehicle accident


Behavioral problems were described as “problematic aggression,” “scared,” “lack of aggression,” and “lacking drive.”  Many law enforcement personnel would argue that such problems should be detected early in training, so one must assume that some dogs were retired fairly quickly.  Either that, or some handlers were not effective in their work if aggression manifested itself after dogs worked significant periods. 

Dogs that lost tracking ability were sometimes also said to have lost ability in bite.  Medical problems leading to euthanasia included back/spinal problems, cancer, arthritis, blindness, and stomach and intestinal diseases, including a case of chronic inflammatory bowel disease.  One dog in the “other” category for death was suspected of being poisoned.  The dog that drowned was tracking a suspect who may have killed the dog to get away. 

Length of Service

As already noted, the average age of a New Zealand German shepherd police dog at death or retirement was found to be 6.6 years, younger than the currently accepted retirement age.  Assuming a dog begins service at approximately 18 months of age, many dogs will have a five-year service life (which in most law enforcement agencies would be regarded as excessively short).  According to the study, however, many dogs “live considerable time-spans in retirement, usually with their old handlers, as a family pet.” 

German shepherds have the highest breed incidence for degeneration of the lumbo-sacral disc according to a doctoral thesis submitted to Utrecht University.  The New Zealand researchers recommend that future studies look at whether the characteristic stance and gait of the German shepherd may predispose the breed to skeletal conditions.  (Many handlers believe that current German shepherd breeding programs are producing significantly different dogs than in the past.  In the U.S., law enforcement experience with German shepherds having such problems has been part of the push towards use of Belgian Malinois.)

The authors of the New Zealand study discussed reasons why the dogs in the New Zealand Police Dog Section died earlier than those in the Lackland study.  They noted that MWDs might be redeployed to less strenuous roles towards the end of their careers, such as becoming training/demonstration dogs.  There might be differences in selection for training, for euthanasia, and access to veterinary care as well. 


The authors of this blog are participating in research on breed comparisons with regard to certain police dog functions.  Breed choices in law enforcement and military work are often made because of traditions in particular agencies, but economic considerations are becoming more critical. Longer-lived dogs, and dogs with fewer veterinary problems, reduce costs.  Other factors, such as the proportion of dogs in litters that can eventually be put into service must also be considered (see Foyer et al., citation below).  Handler preferences and institutional history should no longer be the only reason for selecting specific breeds and breed types for police and military work. 

This blog was written by John Ensminger and L.E. Papet. 


Evans, R.I., Herbold, J.R., Bradshaw, B.S., and Moore, G.E. (2007).  Causes for Discharge of Military Working Dogs from Service: 268 Cases (2000-2004). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 231(8), 1215-20. 

Foyer, P., Wilsson, E., Wright, D., and Jensen, P. (2013). Early Experiences Modulate Stress Coping in a Population of German Shepherd Dogs.  Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Article in Press (posted April 22, 2013).

Moore, G.E., Burkman, K.D., Carter, M.N., and Peterson, M.R., (2001). Causes of Death or Reasons for Euthanasia in Military Working Dogs: 927 Cases (1993-1996).  Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 219(2), 209-214.

Wahl, J.M., Herbst, S.M., Clark, L.A., Tsai, K.L., and Murphy, K.E. (2008). A Review of Hereditary Diseases of the German Shepherd Dog.  Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 3, 255-265. 

Worth, A.J., Sandford, M., Gibson, B., Stratton, R., Erceg, V., Bridges, J., and Jones, B. (2013). Causes of Loss or Retirment from Active Duty for New Zealand Police German Shepherd Dogs.  Animal Welfare, 22, 167-174.  doi: 10.7120/09627286.22.2.167

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Extraverted Dogs Seem to Enjoy Dog Parks, but Neurotic Dogs May Find Them Stressful

In writing a summary of dog park law, Fran Breitkopf and I noted that dog park sociology would inevitably become a topic for scientific journals.  We were thinking about what dog parks mean for people, rather than dogs, but four Canadian researchers (Ottenheimer Carrier et al., citation below) have published a study suggesting that dog parks may be very entertaining places for dogs that score high on Extraversion in personality tests, while probably being threatening and uncomfortable for dogs that score high on Neuroticism. 

Cortisol, hydrocortisone, is a steroid hormone produced in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in response to stress and other stimuli. It increases blood sugar through gluconeogenesis and aids in fat, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism.  It has been studied in baboons, monkeys, dogs, horses, and birds, though a recent paper notes that the relationships between cortisol, social behaviors, and personality traits have rarely been studied in non-human animals.  There have been some cortisol studies of dogs in kennel settings, as well as work situations for trained dogs, including service, therapy, and police dogs, but companion animals have generally been ignored. 

Canine Personalities

In an attempt to determine why cortisol levels might increase more in some dogs than others during visits to dog parks, the authors of this study looked for correlations that might occur based on a dog’s personality.  Studies of dog personality have often focused on “coping styles.”  Quoting Horváth et al., a study of police dogs (cite below), they note:

“[P]olice dogs characterized behaviourally as having an ambivalent coping style showed more signs of acute stress (e.g., low body posture, snout-licking, and paw-lifting) and demonstrated a cortisol surge in response to a threatening stimulus.”

Other assessments of personality are based on analysis of personality traits, such as exploration, boldness, fearfulness, and aggression.  For their dog park study, the Canadian researchers chose a personality assessment called the Monash Canine Personality Questionnaire-Revised (MCPQ-R), which uses a rating scale for 26 traits clustered into five personality dimensions:
  • Extraversion
  • Motivation
  • Training Focus
  • Amicability
  • Neuroticism
Motivation and Training Focus are perhaps unique to domestic dogs in terms of personality measurement.  The researchers sought to determine relationships between cortisol, personality, and specific behaviors and postural changes indicative of play, agonism (conflict behavior), and stress, of dogs interacting in dog parks.

Study 1

In the first part of the study, 11 owners and dogs were recruited. The dogs ranged from 8 months to 11 years, most being spayed or neutered.  Owners of dogs in this part of the study tended to visit the dog park less than three times per month.  Each was given a saliva sampling kit and asked to use the equipment before and after taking a dog on a walk and before and during a visit to the Quidi Vidi Dog Park in St. John’s, Newfoundland, a space measuring 45 by 65 meters and enclosed by wire fencing, as shown in the first picture.  Dog owners congregate at several benches in the park.  There is a water fountain from which dogs can drink and two fake fire hydrants on which dog frequently urinate. Dog park sessions were video recorded. 

Study 2

The second part of the research involved 60 companion dogs ranging from 6 months to 15.5 years, 34 of which were purebred and 26 mixed, also recruited from the Quidi Vidi Dog Park.  Dogs had been owned an average of two and a half years and 81% were spayed or neutered.  Most dogs visited the park more than three times a month.  Since the dog park is recommended for dogs weighing more than 12 kg (26.5 lbs), most dogs were medium to large in size. 

Owners were recruited by researchers who had set up video equipment and asked if they would consent to having their dogs videotaped.  A consent form was provided, and basic information about the dog and the household was obtained.  Owners completed the MCPQ-R as a means of assessing a dog’s personality.  In other words, the personality assessments in the study were not made by the researchers, but by the owners of the dogs.  After a play session, a sample of the dog’s saliva was taken with a swab. 

Categories of Behavioral Activities

The behaviors documented by the research team from the videotapes were divided into four broad categories: (1) play/attention, (2) agonism, (3) stress, and (4) mounting.  Each of these broad categories except mounting had a number of possible manifestations, as described in the following table:


Exaggerated approach
Slow, running approach in sightline of partner; loose, rolling nature to run.
Exaggerated retreat
Backwards leap; head up towards partner.
Play bow
Forelimbs down; hind legs raised; tail erect or wagging.
Withdraw with looks backward; at a reduced pace or with loping stride; new instance of behaviour when it persisted
for 5 seconds.
Frontal display with teeth and lips showing; no biting.
Bow head
Nod head below shoulder level; maintain or nod up.
Play slap
Usually simultaneous slap of ground with two forelimbs, occurs in play bow position.
On hind legs, with front paws around partner’s head; tail up.
Use part of body to knock into partner.
Put nose and closed mouth to other; non-investigatory.
Make firm mouth contact (of scruff, rum, face, or body); force is tempered
Can have no clear object; biting at air in the direction of, but not touching, partner; can be partial or repeated.
Paw at other’s face or body.

A low frequency but audible rumbling produced in the throat.
Bare teeth
Lips curled upward, possible exposure of teeth.
Sudden biting motion in direction of a conspecific.
Firm mouth contact where mouth and teeth have firm grip on conspecific.
Sudden angular leap towards conspecific.
Driving away conspecific.

Tucked tail
Tail positioned between the back legs; new instance when tail remained tucked for 5 seconds.
Hunched posture
Back curved upward, body and head lower to the ground; new instance when back stayed curved for 5 seconds.
Paw lift
One front paw is lifted off the ground and slightly bent.
Snout lick
Tongue runs over top of snout, usually going over the nose.
Run away
Removing or attempting to remove oneself from altercation with conspecific; new instance counted when dog had chance to interact with other dog (stopping, looking back), but removed itself.
Mouth open wide with large intake of breath.
Pull away
Removing or attempting to remove oneself from physical interaction with human.
Attempting to clasp or successfully clasping front legs around conspecific’s body and performing pelvic thrusts. 

On average, dogs were alone about a third of the time they were in the Quidi Vidi Dog Park.  They spent about 40% of their time with humans and about 23% with another dog or dogs.  Young male dogs spent more time in dyads (with one other dog) than was true of females of any age.  The researchers observed that “dogs that displayed more agonistic behaviours tended to exhibit more stress-related behaviours.”  (Perhaps it is true that bullies worry more about being bullied than most members of any species.)  Hunched posture was correlated significantly with stress-related behaviors.  Hunched posture also correlated highly with tucked tail, and the latter with “run away.”  Exaggerated approach correlated with play bow.

“Only males mounted and of the seven males that did so, three were sexually intact.”  There were no sexually receptive females, however, so mounting occurred outside of a sexual context, and was determined to occur “mainly in the context of play.” 

Agonistic behaviors were, according to the researchers, fairly rare.  This has been our personal experience as well. An aggressive dog, or one prone to attacking, is uncommon in most dog parks.  Owners will sooner or later put pressure on someone with such a dog to get control or leave.    
Correlations were also found with the MCPQ-R results.  Extraversion significantly predicted the amount of time dogs spent in dyads.  Neuroticism predicted the frequency of hunched posture.  Training Focus and Motivation on the personality assessment did not correlate with any behavior measures, however. The second picture shows a group of dogs in the Quidi Vidi Dog Park.  

Cortisol Levels

Cortisol levels increased more from visits to the dog park than from taking walks.  Cortisol levels in five dogs were negatively correlated with the number of visits to the park.  That is, for some dogs that came infrequently to the park, cortisol levels were very high upon making a visit.  Hunched posture correlated significantly with cortisol levels. 

Dogs that had not visited the park for some time tended to show more stress-related behaviors.  Thus, “dogs that had visited the park within 1 week of the test session showed significantly fewer behavioural indicators of stress than those which had visited more than a week prior to the session.” The researchers hypothesized:

“Taken together, these data suggest that the increase in cortisol seen in dogs in the dog park is caused by at least two processes: first, most dogs are likely emotionally and physiologically aroused by the presence of conspecifics [other dogs], both familiar and unfamiliar, and by the dog park’s physical environment, resulting in increased cortisol; second, dogs who are not frequent or recent visitors are likely additionally aroused, or stressed, by the novelty of the dog park setting, thereby contributing to higher cortisol levels (in dogs that visit rarely), or to higher stress-related behaviour frequencies (in dogs which are not rare visitors, but which had not visited the park within the past week). An additional reason for increased cortisol in some dogs in the dog park may be related to their underlying predisposition towards fearfulness. In this study, dogs which scored high in the MCPQ-R Neuroticism dimension showed higher frequencies of hunched posture, but not higher levels of cortisol. This may be due to the fact that less fearful/low neurotic dogs in this setting show arousal-induced increases in cortisol that may mask any relationship between neuroticism and cortisol. Those dogs showing hunched posture are arguably the most stressed dogs in the park, as the frequency of hunched posture also correlated highly with the frequency of total stress behaviours, and more specifically, with the behaviours of tucked tail and run away.”

The researchers suggest that “owners of dogs showing lowered posture in the dog park might be advised to reconsider exposing their dog to this setting for welfare reasons.” 

Extraversion in Owners and Dogs

Dogs that visited the Quidi Vidi Dog Park were significantly higher in Extraversion than in a prior study of a large group of dogs. 

“This may imply that the dogs in our sample represent a subset of the dog population, i.e., highly extraverted dogs, which are described by their owners as highly active, energetic, excitable, hyperactive, lively and restless…. It is possible that the owners of such dogs are more likely to bring their dogs to an off-leash park than are owners of less active dogs to provide them with opportunities to socialize and exercise. Alternatively, dogs that attend the dog park may become more extraverted through that process, as they have opportunities to be physically active and to socialize.”

Our prediction that dog parks will lead to sociological studies of humans may have to be modified to say that a comprehensive study should include both human and canine behavior. 


The researchers conclude that most dogs, “especially those which owners rate as physically active and friendly, appear to have overall positive experiences in the dog park, and likely benefit from the physical activity and social interactions that such a setting provides.”  The researchers note that a study on factors that relate to dog park attendance patterns and behavior outcomes is warranted.  If the dog park phenomenon continues to grow, as seems to us inevitable, such studies will surely follow. 

Thanks to Fran Breitkopf for comments on this blog. Thanks to Dr. Walsh for providing the pictures of the Quidi Vidi Dog Park. 


Ottenheimer Carrier, L, Cyr, A., Anderson, R.E., and Walsh, C.J. (2013). Exploring the Dog Park: Relationship between Social Behaviours, Personality, and Cortisol in Companion Dogs.  Applied Animal Behaviour Science, posted online 2013)

Horváth, Z., Igyártó, B.Z., Magyar, A., and Miklósi, A. (2007). Three Different Coping Styles in Police Dogs Exposed to a Short-Term Challenge.  Hormones and Behavior, 52, 621–630.

Walsh, Froma (2009). Human-Animal Bonds I: The Relational Significance of Companion Animals.  Family Process, 48, 462-480.  ("Dog parks and dog beaches function much like play groups for toddlers and their parents. They provide a pet-centered social network for ‘‘parents,’’ who take delight in watching animal interactions and antics, and share their pet experiences and tips on handling particular challenges. Interestingly, owners come to recognize the dogs and know their names and traits, even when they don’t know each other's names.")