The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

Questionnaire helps diagnose dog behavioural problems

Study shows that an owner questionnaire is a valid method in assessing canine frustration.

Behavioural problems in dogs can be assessed with help from an owner completed questionnaire, developed by a team of veterinary behaviourists and animal welfare scientists.

In a recent study, tests involving dogs and their owners have helped validate the Canine Frustration Questionnaire, which aims to meet the need for an accurate tool to identify frustration in dogs.

The research, involving healthy dogs volunteered by their owners, was led by the Head of the Behaviour Clinic at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies alongside colleagues from the Universities of Lincoln and Leeds.

The questionnaire is designed to be completed by a dog owner and scored by a behaviourist, who assesses the role of frustration in the dog’s behaviour problems and informs recommended treatment. It is designed to allow for objective measurement of a dog’s tendency to become frustrated, the assessment of which has previously relied on subjective evaluation by clinicians.

In this new study, more than 40 dogs underwent a single series of short behaviour tests replicating real life scenarios which can induce mild frustration – such as being left alone, being ignored or being denied food or toys. After each short test, dogs were permitted access to the food, toys or attention which they had previously been denied.

During the series of tests, their owners completed the questionnaire.  

Scoring frustration

Dogs were filmed throughout the tests, and levels of a stress hormone, cortisol, in samples of their saliva were recorded before and after the tests. Behaviours including vocalising and lunging, plus changes in cortisol were associated with frustration scores from the questionnaire.

Researchers say the approach will help recognise the important role of frustration in dog behaviour problems that might previously have been attributed to fear or anxiety. Pilot studies have also suggested the questionnaire may be useful in veterinary research to assess the effectiveness of treatments for frustration-related problems in dogs.

The research, published in Animals, follows development of the test in a previous study.

When assessing a behaviour problem in an animal, identifying the correct underlying emotions is important to make the right diagnosis and provide the most appropriate treatment. Frustration has been considered an important negative emotion implicated in a range of common behaviour problems in dogs. Our latest study increases confidence in using the owner completed Canine Frustration Questionnaire as a valid measure of frustration tendencies in dogs which can quickly and easily be incorporated into a behaviour assessment.

Kevin McPeakeLecturer in Clinical Animal Behaviour, R(D) SVS, and lead author of the study

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About the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies 

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is a one-of-a-kind centre of excellence in clinical activity, teaching and research. Our purpose-built campus, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Pentland Hills Regional Park, is home to more than eight hundred staff and almost fourteen hundred students, all of whom contribute to our exceptional community ethos. 

The School comprises: 

The Roslin Institute 

The Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security 

The Roslin Innovation Centre 

The Hospital for Small Animals 

Equine Veterinary Services 

Farm Animal Services 

Easter Bush Pathology 

The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education 

We represent the largest concentration of animal science-related expertise in Europe, impacting local, regional, national and international communities in terms of economic growth, the provision of clinical services and the advancement of scientific knowledge.