Science and Technology
Learn more about the science and technology we use to develop healthy and strong assistance dogs.
Becoming an assistance dog is like going to college. It’s tough to get in and not everyone graduates. “We want to identify those features that are going to be linked to success,” said Brenda Kennedy, DVM, MS, Canine Companions national director of canine health and research.
As the number of children being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder continues to rise, so does the demand for a popular treatment – service dogs.
What makes a successful life-changing assistance dog: brains, brawn, or behavior? A new study of thousands of Canine Companions for Independence® dogs may have some answers, identifying predictors of success in a field where the majority of dogs don’t make the cut.
Assistance dogs are trained to work with people with disabilities. Even among dogs specifically bred to be assistance dogs, only about 50 percent that start a training program will successfully complete it, while the rest go on to be very well-trained family pets. Dr. Evan MacLean, director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona, is exploring ways to identify the best dogs for different jobs – before they start the long and expensive training process — by looking at their cognitive abilities.
In a new venture between Canine Companions and Duke University, Dr. Brian Hare, a leader in the field of canine cognition, is working with 8-16-week-old Canine Companions pups at Duke to study their traits and experiences. Then he’ll track them through formal Canine Companions training to see which qualities turn out to foreshadow success.
Canine Companions dogs stood apart from the pet dogs in one interesting measurement—the fMRI determined that the reward center of the brain acted differently when our dogs were rewarded by their familiar handler than by a stranger. Pet dogs didn’t have the same biomarker changes.
Dr. Evan MacLean and Dr. Emily Bray with members of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona are exploring how a puppy’s early abilities are associated with their later success as an assistance dog.