Development of a Performance Monitoring Instrument for Rating Explosives Search Dog Performance

Nicola J Rooney, Corinna C A Clark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The growing body of working dog literature includes many examples of scales robustly developed to measure aspects of dog behavior. However, when comparing behavior to working dog ability, most studies rely on training organizations' own long-established ratings of performance, or simply pass/fail at selection or certification as measures of success. Working ability is multifaceted, and it is likely that different aspects of ability are differentially affected by external factors. In order to understand how specific aspects of selection, training, and operations influence a dog's working ability, numerous facets of performance should be considered. An accurate and validated method for quantifying multiple aspects of performance is therefore required. Here, we describe the first stages of formulating a meaningful performance measurement tool for two types of working search dogs. The systematic methodology used was: (1) interviews and workshops with a representative cross-section of stakeholders to produce a shortlist of behaviors integral to current operational performance of vehicle (VS) and high assurance (HAS) search dogs; (2) assessing the reliability and construct validity of the shortlisted behavioral measures (at the behavior and the individual rater level) using ratings of diverse videoed searches by experienced personnel; and (3) selecting the most essential and meaningful behaviors based on their reliability/validity and importance. The resulting performance measurement tool was composed of 12 shortlisted behaviors, most of which proved reliable and valid when assessed by a group of raters. At the individual rater level, however, there was variability between raters in the ability to use and interpret behavioral measures, in particular, more abstract behaviors such as Independence. This illustrates the importance of examining individual rater scores rather than extrapolating from group consensus (as is often done), especially when designing a tool that will ultimately be used by single raters. For ratings to be practically valuable, individual rater reliability needs to be improved, especially for behaviors deemed as essential (e.g., control and confidence). We suggest that the next steps are to investigate why individuals vary in their ratings and to undertake efforts to increase the likelihood that they reach a common conceptualization of each behavioral construct. Plausible approaches are improving the format in which behaviors are presented, e.g., by adding benchmarks and utilizing rater training.

Original languageEnglish
Article number545382
Pages (from-to)545382
JournalFrontiers in Veterinary Science
Early online date7 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank personnel of the 1st Military Working Dogs Regiment (Royal Army Vet Corps), the Defence Animal Centre, and the RAF Police for their invaluable inputs throughout this project. We would also like to thank Professor Bill Browne for statistical advice and Dr. Jo Hockenhull, Dr. Steve Nicklin, and Col. Neil Smith for very useful comments on the manuscript. Funding. This study was supported by UK Ministry of Defence (MOD). Quantification of Performance ? VS and HASD dog roles Ref DFAS RK7283.

Funding Information:
This study was supported by UK Ministry of Defence (MOD). Quantification of Performance – VS and HASD dog roles Ref DFAS RK7283.

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2021 Rooney and Clark.


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