Minimising fear and anxiety in working dogs: a review

Nicola Rooney, Corinna Clark, Rachel Casey

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

32 Citations (Scopus)
1209 Downloads (Pure)


The causes of fear and anxiety in working dogs are multifactorial, including inherited characteristics that differ between individuals (e.g. Goddard and Beilharz, 1982; 1984a, b), influences of the environment (Lefebvre et al., 2007), and learnt experiences during particular sensitive periods (Appleby et al 2002) and throughout life as well as inappropriate initial introduction to new stimuli . Fear-related behaviour compromises performance, leads to significant numbers of dogs failing to complete training (e.g. Murphy, 1995; Batt et al.,2008), early withdrawals from working roles (Caron-Lomier et al 2016) and can jeopardize dog and handler safety. Hence, its amelioration is critical to maintain dogs in working roles, as well as ensuring their wellbeing. Whilst current methods of selection and training are seemingly effective at producing many dogs which work in a remarkable array of environments, some dogs do not make the grade, and longevity of service is not always maximized. Programmes should strive for optimal efficiency and they need to continually analyse the value of each component of their programme, seek evidence for its value and explore potential evidence-based improvements. Here we discuss scientific evidence for methods and strategies which may be of value in reducing the risk of fear behaviours developing in the working dog population and suggest potentially valuable techniques and future research to explore the benefit of these approaches. The importance of environmental influences and learning opportunities as well as underlying temperament on the outward expression of fear and anxiety, should not be underestimated. Identification of characteristics which predict resilience to stress are valuable, both to enable careful breeding for these traits and to develop predictive tests for puppies and procured animals. But vitally important also is rearing animals in optimal environments and introducing them to a range of stimuli in a positive, controlled and gradual way, as these can all help minimize the number of dogs which develop work-inhibiting fears. Future research should explore innovative methods to best measure the relative resilience of dogs to stressful events. This could include developing optimal exposure protocols to minimize the development of fear and anxiety; exploring, the influence of social learning and the most effective elements of stimulus presentation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-64
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research
Early online date12 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


  • Selection test
  • Habituation
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Prevention
  • Working dog

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