Home or boarding school for the weekend: Which is best for future guide dogs involved in an ongoing training program?
The impact of the housing management approach for future guide dogs during the training program on dogs’ welfare is still unknown. During the training period, dogs either go back with their foster family every weekend, or they stay at school. The aim of this study was to compare these two management styles on animals’ welfare and performance. Behavioral and physiological parameters were assessed on eighteen dogs over a period of 3 weeks; 9 returned to their foster families on weekends (FF group), and 9 remained at school (Sc group). Results showed that dogs staying at school expressed less stress behavior at rest (GLMM; DF=1; F =10.11; p=0.0018). A visual analogue scale completed by the dog trainer indicated that they were more focused during training sessions (GLMM; DF=1; F=5.42; p=0.0326). Also, dogs were well accustomed to life in the school kennel, with the neutrophil/lymphocyte ratio and levels of serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin in line with normal rates in both groups. These results suggest that school environment has no negative impact on the dogs and avoiding repeated separations with the foster family could reduce stress and increase their welfare. This should prompt consideration of the housing environment of future guide dogs.