Drug-and explosive-sniffing dog performance is affected by handlers' beliefs

Washington, Feb 1 (ANI): A new by researchers at UC Davis has found that drug-and explosive-sniffing dog/handler teams' performance is affected by human handlers' beliefs, possibly in response to subtle, unintentional handler cues.

The study found that detection-dog/handler teams erroneously 'alerted,' or identified a scent, when there was no scent present more than 200 times-particularly when the handler believed that there was scent present.

"It isn't just about how sensitive a dog's nose is or how well-trained a dog is. There are cognitive factors affecting the interaction between a dog and a handler that can impact the dog's performance," said study's lead author Lisa Lit.

To evaluate the effects of handler beliefs and expectations on detection-dog performance, the researchers recruited 18 handler-detection dog teams from law-enforcement agencies.

The setting for the study was a church where neither the dogs nor the handlers had been before. The researchers created four separate rooms for the dogs to examine or 'clear' and each room represented a different experimental condition or scenario.

The dog-handler teams conducted two separate five-minute searches of each room. When handlers believed their dogs had alerted, indicated a target scent, an observer recorded the location indicated by handlers.

Although there should have been no alerts in any of the rooms, there were alerts in all rooms. Moreover, there were more alerts at the locations indicated by construction paper than at either of the locations containing just the decoy scents or at any other locations.

That is significant because there were more alerts on target locations indicated by human suggestion than at locations of increased dog interest, said Lit.

"This study should be replicated and expanded so that we can assess hidden cues handlers might be giving. It might be the case that everyone is doing the same types of things so that you could possibly address it directly," she said.

The findings were published in the January issue of the journal Animal Cognition. (ANI)

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