A new human familiarisation and training programme for military dog handler teams
: Improving security, efficiency and welfare at the Belgian defence

  • Anouck Haverbeke

Student thesis: Doc typesDoctor of Sciences


This project on human-dog interaction was developed after bite incidents occurred involving Military Working Dogs (MWDs). Preliminary assessments (accident reports, questionnaire to the handlers, training programmes) led to the hypothesis that those incidents could find their origin in efficiency, human security and dogs’ welfare problems. As a result, a new Human Familiarisation and Training Programme (HFTP) was set up to improve the training methods used by the handlers, increasing handlers’ motivation and improving the relationship between the handler and the dog. A standardised evaluation procedure carried out amongst a Control Group (CG) showed: (1) efficiency problems through the assessment of obedience and protection work exercises (n=33): only 20% of the dogs released their bite after the first command, only 19% of the dogs carried out the Stand-Off correctly; (2) security problems through the assessment of a validated aggression test (n=31): in 69.35% of the cases, dogs reacted with fear-related aggression during the aggression test; (3) no major welfare problems through the behavioural and physiological measurements that were implemented in this project (n=27) as the CG dogs were still able to adapt to environmental challenges (return to baseline of the cortisol levels, a higher posture during the second than during the first challenge). It could not be proven that the welfare of these dogs was hampered, but dog’s low posture during obedience exercises indicated is was under threat. A new HFTP, based on positive and more frequent dog handler (DH) interactions and training, was subsequently set up in order to tackle the existing deficiencies. An EG was submitted to the HFTP and then underwent the same assessment as the CG. Results revealed: (1) efficiency increase through a better performance of EG teams during obedience (increase of 34.04%) and protection work exercises (increase of 69.98%) (CG: n=33, EG: n=33) (2) security enhancement as demonstrated by a decrease of aggressiveness (decrease of 43.78%) during the aggression test (CG: n=31, EG: n=36), (3) welfare improvements were shown by a significant increase of the EG dogs’ posture during the aggression test and during obedience. Nevertheless, EG dogs, used to intense human contact, reacted worse towards kennelling than CG dogs, accustomed to little contact (CG: n=27, EG: n=31). This project could offer the groundwork of forthcoming research that may offer significant improvements in the way military dogs are raised and/or procured, trained, and employed - not to mention their welfare and the DH relationship
Date of Award28 Apr 2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Namur
SupervisorClaire Diederich (Co-Supervisor), Jean-Marie GIFFROY (Supervisor), Baudouin Nicks (Jury), Bertrand Deputte (Jury) & Xavier Manteca (Jury)

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