Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Laboratory Beagles Do Well in New Homes

Researchers follow lab beagles as they go to live with a family – and find they adjust very well.

Sleeping beagle. Lab beagles can be successfully rehomed
Photo: Sigma_S (Shutterstock)


Laboratory beagles are used for a variety of experiments. A new study by Dorothea Döring (LMU Munich) et al investigates how they behave in normal life once they are rehomed with a family.

As they explain at the start of the paper, “As rehoming practice in Germany shows that appropriate new owners can be found and that the dogs seem to adapt easily, no sound reason exists to euthanize surplus or post-experimental laboratory dogs unless they would experience pain and suffering if kept alive. From a moral standpoint, humans have an ethical obligation to provide healthy animals with appropriate living conditions.”

Although some laboratory beagles are re-homed directly to individuals, most are rehomed via animal welfare organizations that specialize in placing them. The researchers studied 145 beagles that were rehomed by two such organizations from a pharmaceutical company.

The results show the new owners were very happy with their dogs: 92% said they would adopt a laboratory beagle again. Only 9 (out of 145 dogs) were returned to the animal welfare group.

Life for beagles at the lab had involved being kept in an indoor kennel with daily access to an outside run. They had been provided with treats, a wooden bite stick and a sleeping box, and most had been housed on their own. The beagles were used to general veterinary procedures like examinations and blood draws.

All of the dogs were given a behavioural test at the lab facility. After six weeks in their new home, the same test was given to all the dogs that were adopted within a 200km radius (74 of the dogs). They were also observed in interactions with the owner (e.g. inviting the dog to play, taking the dog for a walk on leash). The new owners also took part in a telephone interview 1 week and 12 weeks after the adoption.

The behaviour test included a range of things like leaving the dog alone for 90s, offering food from a flat hand, holding the muzzle closed for 10 seconds, putting a collar and leash on, using a stethoscope to check the dog’s heart rate, and so on. In the second test scenario and observations, a few dogs were not given certain parts of the test for welfare reasons (e.g. if the owner said the vacuum cleaner sent them into a panic, they were not shown a vacuum cleaner).

The initial telephone interviews were good, and by 12 weeks the dogs were showing even more good behaviours. By 12 weeks post-adoption, 94% of the dogs enjoyed being petted by the owner, and 93% were said to tolerate being groomed. 77% were friendly towards children in the family, and only 11% were cautious (none were aggressive).

A few behaviours did get worse over this time period: behaviour towards unknown children, to the family cat, and to the veterinarian. The observations of dogs showed most were friendly to a visitor (a researcher) and to a test dog that was walked by during the leash walk. However, a quarter showed a fear response to the visitor. None were aggressive.

Lab beagles adjust well to family life when rehomed. Frequent R+ training is suggested, as this cute beagle shows off a trick
Regular positive reinforcement training sessions are recommended by the authors.
Photo: Otsphoto (Shutterstock)


Most of the correlations between tests were quite low, which is not surprising (for shelter dogs, test results also do not do a good job of predicting behaviour in a new home). There was a moderate correlation between “persistent following” and reports of separation anxiety.

The presence of behaviour problems was only weakly correlated with the likelihood of people saying they would adopt a laboratory beagle again, showing that people are tolerant and patient with their dogs.

There was an interesting effect of the original source of the dogs, as dogs bred in the research facility did better than those who had come from a commercial breeder.

Obedience training and the use of frequent rewards were both linked to better-behaved dogs. This is no surprise because other studies have found reward-based dog training is linked to a more obedient dog.

Attendance at dog training classes, however, was not linked to better behaviour. It may be that the people who went to dog training classes (rather than just training at home) did so because the dog had behaviour problems, and/or because they had less experience of training a dog. This is something that warrants further investigation.

The main behaviour problems were house soiling (found in 39% of 126 dogs) and separation anxiety (reported in 28% of 125 dogs). Some of the dogs were also afraid of sounds such as the vacuum cleaner.

These results are very promising for the rehoming of laboratory beagles, since they show most dogs are friendly, adapt well, and their new owners are happy with them. This ties in with other studies that tell us most people who adopt shelter dogs would do so again. Dogs that were previously used as breeding stock in a commercial breeding establishment can also become loving family pets even though in that case the risk of behaviour and health problems is much higher.

The scientists make some important recommendations, including that beagles can be rehomed at any age as they did well in their new homes regardless of age. They can be rehomed to families with children, although safety rules should always be followed for interactions between children and dogs. Rehoming via animal welfare organizations that specialize in the placement of lab dogs is sensible. 

The scientists say research facilities should select breeders whose dogs are friendly, well-socialized and not fearful. They suggest giving advice on house training, separation anxiety, and fear of sounds/objects, as well as contact details for behaviourists in case help is needed.

And another recommendation is to have regular dog training sessions using positive reinforcement.

You can read the full set of recommendations at the end of the article, which is open access. 


Reference 
Döring, D., Nick, O., Bauer, A., Küchenhoff, H., & Erhard, M. H. (2017). How do rehomed laboratory beagles behave in everyday situations? Results from an observational test and a survey of new owners. PloS one, 12(7), e0181303.

Companion Animal Psychology is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

2 comments:

  1. Can you please please share some additional information on the lives of these dogs while owned by the pharma companies? If they were not treated humanely, it wouldn't be ethical to further exploit them to study rehoming, would it?

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's Beagles for you! (And WHY they are used in Laboratories :-(

    ReplyDelete

Companion Animal Psychology is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com, Amazon.ca and Amazon.co.uk. (privacy policy)

Amazon