BCL General Overview
Assessing Canine Behavior
What is a behavior assessment?
A behavior assessment is the process of identifying and noting an individual dog’s reaction to various environmental stimuli. Behavior assessments focus on and measure the things a dog does and avoid the use of adjectives such as anxiety or suspicion, which are our interpretations of the behavior.
Why assess behavior?
Guide Dog Schools assess the behavior of their dog for a number of reasons including:
• Determining the suitability of a dog for training.
• Efficient processing of dogs to reduce unnecessary occupancy of kennels by dogs not suited to training.
• Improving welfare by not attempting to train dogs that are not suited to the rigors of guide dog work.
• Determining the suitability of a dog for breeding.
• Measuring changes in behavior of a dog over time.
• Measuring changes in behavior within a colony of dogs.
• Gathering data that can be used to determine the heritability of behavioral traits.
• Exerting selection pressure to increase or decrease the prevalence of behavioral traits in a breeding colony.
• Sharing information between breeding partners.
How to assess behavior.
A number of tools are available to score behavior in dogs. Many guide dog schools have developed their own particular tool. For consistent, meaningful and useful data to be gathered it is important that a test be standardized and applied in a similar manner with each individual tested.
In addition, inter and intra rater reliability should be measured to ensure consistency of scoring between individual scorers and that any one individual scores similarly each time they use the test.
Many tests suffer from poor reliability / validity as scorers are subject to drift over time or demonstrate bias in their assessments.
Assessments can be completed in a range of settings but will usually involve exposing the dog to a range of stimuli in a range of circumstances. This typically involves evaluating the dogs reaction to being in a busy or noisy environment, its reaction to novel objects and its reaction when it meets other dogs or animals.
Why use a common test?
The use of a testing tool that is common across a number of schools has many benefits including:
• The sharing of data between breeding colonies to assist with selection of suitable dogs from other colonies that will support targeted improvements in another.
• Demonstrate differences in the behavior of colonies over time.
• Accelerating improvements in a breeding colony by using data gathered on related dogs in another colony.
• Opportunity for smaller breeding colonies to use data on all related dogs no matter which colony they may be in.
• The development of a common language within the industry to describe dogs.
The Behavior Checklist (BCL)
The Behavior Checklist (BCL) is a behavior scoring system developed by Dr. James Serpell from the University of Pennsylvania, USA in collaboration with multiple guide dog organizations especially The Seeing Eye and Guiding Eyes for the Blind. The BCL provides a way to describe aspects of behavior important for guide and service dogs.
Importantly the BCL has been validated and demonstrates the capacity to measure behavior in a consistent manner that lends itself to analysis.
How the Behavior Checklist helps:
• Terminology to describe behavior is standardized across all users.
• Data is consistent within your school and with other schools that use the Behavior Checklist (BCL)
• Estimated breeding values can be calculated on dogs from small schools if they use the International Working Dog Registry database to enter their dogs and behavior checklists. This assumes about 25% of the dogs are related to other dogs in the database.
When to use the BCL and other tests?
In general terms the more data we gather about our dogs behavior the better. Common points during a dogs development to assess behavior include:
• Puppy testing: Commonly undertaken when pups are between 6-8 weeks of age and scored while the pups are feeding, receiving husbandry, care or handling by people or during socialization activities. The New Zealand puppy test is an ideal tool for use with pups at this age
• Puppy raising: The BCL can be used to score behavior of pups during puppy raising. Observations can be made of the pup in the home as well as on socialization or assessment walks. Puppy raisers can also provide data to help complete the BCL.
• In for training (IFT): An ideal time to gather behavioral data is when dogs first enter the kennels or commence guide dog training. By using the BCL together with the Guide Dog Behavioral Assessment Test (GDBART) users can gather the same information as other schools using a standardized test that can be completed in as little as 10-15 minutes. The GDBART requires the availability of a room in which the dog can be exposed to a range of specific stimuli in a very specific manner. Not all BCL items can be scored using the GDBART therefore further information on things such as kennel behavior, steps and traffic will still need to be gathered on training walks to complete all BCL test items.
• During training: Another ideal time to complete the BCL is around mid-point of the training cycle or when a dog is reclassified or repurposed from a program. At this time it can be completed by the trainer and / or a supervisor and will include information about things such as riding in vehicles, kennels and general willingness of the dog in training.
Which dogs should be tested?
• Score all dogs that you produce, even dogs that are released from you’re program early. Remember that all the data you gather can be useful.
Filling out the Behavior Checklist
All items / questions on the BCL should be completed. It is vital that you use the list of definitions for each element of the test. These definitions describe in detail the behaviors associated with the score for each category tested. By referring carefully to the definitions your scores are likely to be far more consistent and also more likely to be the same as they would be if someone else was completing the form. Consistent scoring is vital if the data is to be of use to you over time.
Each item on the BCL can be stored in the International Working Dog Registry (IWDR) data base. This data base can be used to help you share data with other breeders, determine heritability’s of various behavioral traits and target improvements in your breeding program.
• Score all of the Behavior Checklist items.
• Use the definitions which are available in multiple languages.
• BCLs can be stored in the International Working Dog Registry database (IWDR) – TUTORIAL Enter BCL in IWDR
Using the BCL scores:
Having gathered BCL data over time you have the potential to:
• Determine which behaviors are associated with success or failure in your program
• Eliminate the dogs from training earlier who have a very poor success rate in your program.
• By using the BCL and inputting the data to the IWDR your BCL scores can be used in genetic analysis. This can help you identify which dogs that you are considering to keep for breeding have the best chance of having the best genes for behavior traits important to you.