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THURSDAY, Jan. 23, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The paths that dogs take during group walks help reveal their personality traits and identify the leaders of the pack, according to a new study.
Researchers used GPS-equipped harnesses to track the movements of six dogs on 14 group walks with their owner. Each walk lasted 30 to 40 minutes. The results showed that the dogs' movements were influenced by personality differences and the group's social structure, the study authors said.
"We showed that it is possible to determine the social ranking and personality traits of each dog from their GPS movement data," said study author Dr. Mate Nagy, of the department of zoology at Oxford University in England.
"On individual walks it is hard to identify one permanent leader, but over longer timescales it soon becomes clear that some dogs are followed by peers more often than others," Nagy said in a university news release. "Overall, the collective motion of the pack is strongly influenced by an underlying social network."
The researchers said their study -- which was published in the journal PLoS Computational Biology -- shows that path tracking can measure dogs' social behavior. One possible use of this approach would be to assess search-and-rescue dogs to identify which ones work best together.
A dog's behavior on walks reveals characteristics such as trainability, controllability, aggression, age and dominance, the researchers said. Those that repeatedly took the lead were more responsive to training, more controllable, older and more aggressive than the dogs that followed.
The researchers also said dogs are ideal models of human behavior, so this method could be used to analyze certain types of social interactions among people, such as parents walking with their children.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: University of Oxford, news release, Jan. 23, 2014