Whether working with dogs on a professional basis (for example, vets, veterinary nurses and rescue shelter staff), or as their carers, we want to provide them with the highest quality of welfare.
Physiological measures, such as heart rate, have been used as indicators of welfare for a number of years, but while they may reflect levels of arousal, they may not reflect valence (the attractiveness (positive valence) or aversiveness (negative valence) of a situation).
Behavioural measures, such as how long it takes an animal to approach a stimulus, may also be used to assess welfare. However, although behavioural measures allow us to gain a less intrusive idea of the quality of welfare, these measures are harder to interpret and more likely to be subjected to observer bias. As a result, there is an urgent need to develop a better method of assessing welfare in animals, including dogs.
It has recently been demonstrated that the mood an individual is experiencing can influence its sensitivity to reward change, with those in a more positive emotional state recovering more quickly from an unexpected reward loss than those in a negative state. For example, if you were expecting a pay rise and didn’t receive one, you would recover from this more quickly if you were in a positive mental state. Building upon this theory, it is possible that we could use sensitivity to reward change to assess emotion and mood (known as affective state) in animals – and this is the aim of our current project.
The project will primarily be focused on the assessment of affective state in dogs, but will seek to develop concepts and methods that are transferable across a variety of different animal species.
For more information on the science behind our project, click here.