Measuring herding behavior in Border collie – effect of protocol structure on usefulness for selection

Last changed: 17 May 2013

Arvelius, P., Malm, S., Svartberg, K. & Strandberg, E. 2012. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 8:9-18.

Abstract: From 1989 until 2003, the Swedish Sheepdog Society used a standardized method, Herding Trait Characterization (HTC), to describe herding behavior of individual Border collies for breeding purposes. In the HTC, which existed in 2 consecutive versions, the dog’s herding behavior was described using predefined scales typically consisting of 6 classes within each trait. In total, 1,663 dogs participated in the first version and 951 in the second. The main difference between the versions was the structure of the protocols used to record the traits. In the first version, the scales were designed to describe the intensity in the expression of the measured traits. In the second version, the most desirable behavioral expression was placed in the middle of the scale. Another difference was that in the second version, the judges were given more freedom for their own interpretations, that is, the scales were more subjective.

The objective of this study was to examine the quality of each version from a breeding perspective, and to analyze the reasons for possible differences in this respect between them. Heritability estimates for the 17 traits of the earlier version of the HTC ranged from 0.14 to 0.50 (weighted average: 0.30), all significantly different from 0. Corresponding heritabilities for the 19 traits in the later version were substantially lower (0.03-0.41, weighted average: 0.16), 3 of them not being significantly different from 0. Owing to the moderate-to-high heritabilities for the traits measured in the earlier version of the HTC, it would be possible to accomplish effective selection of breeding animals for most of the measured traits. It is plausible that the less neutral and more subjective protocol of the later version is the main cause for the lower heritabilities.