Topics, Titles & Summaries

Each speaker will give a 60min presentation pertaining to the daily topic. At the end of each day, there will be a panel discussion where our speakers and invited experts debate and discuss questions from the audience.

aggression and conflict


Measurable motor patterns fall into three categories: foraging behaviors, reproductive behaviors and hazard-avoidance behaviors. Within each category there are subsets of social behavior, labeled aggressive behaviors, where the animal defends food or its sources, seeks reproductive access, or defends itself from perceived harm. Understanding aggressiveness can only be accomplished by understanding both the anxiety or arousal that initiates the aggressive performance (food, reproduction, or fear) as well as the internal reward(s) for performing aggressive behavior.

Learning Goals:

  • Understanding motor patterns when interpreting aggression
  • Examining the benefits of aggressiveness through foraging success, reproductive success, and avoiding hazards
  • Understanding how anxiety and arousal initiates these motor patterns


This presentation will explore current evidence for individual and breed differences in canine aggression, and the extent to which genetic and environmental factors contribute to these differences. It will also compare and contrast the variety of systems currently used to classify aggressive behavior in dogs. These topics are relevant to how we manage aggression in individual dogs, and the appropriateness or not of breed-specific restrictions as a means of preventing dog bites.

Learning Goals:

  • To draw attention to what we do and don’t know about aggression in dogs
  • To clarify the relative contributions of genes and the environment to dog aggression
  • To encourage critical evaluation of the evidence

The neuroscience, ethology and semiotics of social behaviour: Get your ethograms and semiograms ready!Simon Gadbois, PhD

This presentation will discuss both the methodological issues pertaining to the study of canid agonistic behavior as well as our conceptualization of aggression through the disciplines of psychology, ethology, behavioural ecology and neuroscience. Zoosemiotics is a field related to ethology which studies the sounds and signals animals use to communicate. In both ethological and zoosemiotic models, aggression and submission are always dynamic and in context. Challenges relating to this conceptualization of agonistic behaviours will be examined using Fentress’ action sequences, which move beyond FAPs and MAPs and represent without a doubt the modern perspective on behavior patterns. Perspectives from the Canid Behaviour Research Team at Dalhousie University and 30 years of data from the Canadian Centre for Wolf Research will be discussed in addition with the coyote situation in Nova Scotia to illustrate issues regarding definitions and theoretical perspectives on aggression.

Learning Goals:

  • To understand the complexity of studying dynamic social interactions in real time
  • To learn the richness of the concept of behavioral and social “rules”
  • Appreciation of the different theoretical and conceptual perspective on aggression, including in the context of social conflicts


Dogs seemingly bark in any situation, initially leading scientists to suggest barking had no function. However, dogs also vary the sound of their barks in different situations, so a bark at a stranger does not sound the same as a bark during a game of fetch. This variation has led to the hypothesis that barking is a form of communication with humans selected to benefit us. However, dogs are not the only animals to bark. This vocalization appears in numerous mammals and birds. In this talk I will discuss how investigation into other animals and the acoustics of the bark itself suggest that the bark is associated with a conflicted motivational state. I will also present new research testing these two hypotheses against each other.

Learning Goals

  • To understand the current evidence for the function of barking in dogs
  • To understand evolution can happen as a byproduct of other selection
  • To understand how the broader scientific field of animal behavior and comparison to other animals can inform us about dog behavior


A picture is worth a thousand words, and dogs “paint” pictures for us all the time through their movements and expressions. This interactive presentation will focus on video and audio recordings that can fine-tune our ability to evaluate what we are seeing and hearing. We’ll watch and listen as dogs interact with one another in situations related to conflict or agonistic behavior. No matter how skilled we are at “reading” dogs, we all can improve our ability to translate from dog to human. We can also take this opportunity to question our beliefs and assumptions about what specific actions actually mean—how much of them are based on good, solid science, and how much is based on a good guess? We’ll talk about this and more, while watching and listening to dogs communicating in their native language, while we “second language learners” try to keep up.

Learning Goals:

  • To be able to recognize the visual signs of conflict and agonistic behavior
  • To understand how to translate from dog to human
  • To examine the quality of the science behind our understanding of the visual signs of dog behavior

personality and temperament

The Phenotype of Molecules: Why Nature vs. Nurture is the Wrong QuestionPrescott Breeden, BM

When naturalists and psychologists began collaborating in the mid 20th century, debates fuelled speculation whether behaviors were instinctive or learned. Such dilemmas were not new. Since the time of ancient Greece, philosophers have debated whether our destiny is predetermined or whether it is our experiences that make us who we are. But what if we’ve been asking the wrong question?

No matter how large or small, the life of any organism is tied to the functional requirements of a single cell involving a small number of molecules. Consider that approximately 93% of the human body is composed of just hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. How is it possible for life to be so extremely variable with so few molecules? What does homeostasis and equilibrium have to do with the conflict of nature vs. nurture? Is my dog friendly because of how they were raised or because of their genes? This talk will reorganize these questions, not to weigh them against the other, but rather to show how nature and nurture are inseparable concepts.

Learning Goals:

  • Understanding how molecules shape evolution by examining how homeostasis and equilibrium are at constant odds
  • To understand how the chaos and determinism of behavioral genetics simultaneously produce consistency, variety, and malfunction that results in the expression of personality
  • To reformulate a new question that doesn’t pit nature against nurture


In the late 1990s, the scientific community treated the idea of non-human animals having personality with skepticism or even ridicule. Little more than a decade later, the personality of non-human animals is not only well established but a vibrant area of research in such fields as behavioral ecology and applied ethology. Consistent individual differences in personality have been identified in numerous non-human species ranging from octopuses and guppies to hyenas and chimpanzees. What brought about animal personality’s change in fortunes? And what promise does it hold for canine research and practice?

This talk will summarize major discoveries in personality research and discuss the challenges that lie ahead. Using data from our studies of dogs and other species, I will address each challenge and evaluate the viability of personality assessments in dogs: including concerns regarding anthropomorphism; determining the best level at which to conceptualize personality; the need to develop a common taxonomy for describing personality; the importance of construct validation; and integrating the ideas of variation within individuals and across the lifespan. Finally, I shall consider the implications of this work in science (such as understanding the genetic bases of personality) and application settings (such as identifying dogs well suited to explosive-detection work).

Learning Goals

  • To understand basic issues in measurement that have a bearing on personality assessments of dogs
  • To understand the basics of what is known about personality in dogs and other nonhuman animals
  • To develop an understanding of the key issues in canine personality measurement that lie ahead


My life has been involved with working dogs. When we note that there are three hundred plus breeds of dogs in the world we often think of them performing some task. And some of us think that a specific breed can perform that task better than any other breed and or species. For example modern racing sled dogs are the fastest running animal in the world for marathon distances. If I wanted to herd sheep I’d get a border collie and if I wanted a dog to protect sheep I’d get myself a livestock guarding dog. Why am I such a breed chauvinist for the specific relationship I want with a dog? Simply, breeds behave differently and we should discuss why that is.

Learning Goals:

  • To understand the discipline of Ethology. How does an ethologist study behavior?
  • To study the evolution of breeds. How do breeds of working dogs come about?
  • To understand the anatomical and physiological differences of breeds


The presentation will examine differences in temperament among a range of popular dog breeds based on owner responses to a standardized and validated behavioral questionnaire (C-BARQ©—Canine Behavioral Assessment & Research Questionnaire). It will show how some breed-associated temperament traits (e.g. fear/anxiety) may be linked to specific gene mutations, while others may represent more general behavioral legacies of ‘ancient’ ancestry, physical deformity, and/or human selection for specific working or functional abilities. The role of environmental effects such as breed-specific differences in owners’ tolerance of behavioral problems will also be discussed.

Learning Goals:

  • To introduce the C-BARQ, and why and how it was developed
  • To illustrate how it can be used to further our understanding of the behavioral diversity of dogs
  • To demonstrate the complexity of dog evolution

It is not what you like, but what you want that counts: The neurochemistry of behaviour and motivationSimon Gadbois, PhD

This presentation will explain the wanting and liking system behind Kent Berridge’s theory of motivation. I will link this neuroethological perspective (and others such as Panksepp’s seeking system) to behaviour, personality and motivation. The relevance of this perspective on motivation will be explained in the context of learning (including training protocols) and olfactory processing. This talk will be focused on the working dog and their related training issues.

Learning Goals:

  • To understand the basic “systems neuroscience” of motivation
  • To understand the interplay between cognitive, conative (motivational) and affective systems in the brain
  • Exploration of the relevance of neuroscience to personality theory in canines, as well as its relevance to breed choices for working dogs

science in training

Does the Name Pavlov Ring a Bell?Clive Wynne, PhD

What is learning? We all learned in school, and we expect our dogs to learn things – but are these the same procedures? The most basic principles of learning were discovered with dogs by accident by a Russian physiologist in the nineteenth century and there was a time when dogs were among the most popular subjects in psychologists’ experiments. Gradually, however, dogs faded as subjects in the study of learning, even as many modern trainers attempted to integrate scientific learning principles into their work. Few dog trainers or behaviorists today would deny an influence of learning theory on their practices – and yet nowadays almost no learning research is carried out on dogs.

Learning Goals:

  • Do some approaches to dog behavior have more of a basis in learning theory than others?
  • What is scientific learning theory?
  • Are theories of learning helpful?

Integrating Ethology, Learning Theory & Cognition in Animal TrainingMonique A. R. Udell, PhD

Although scientific interest in dogs is not new, the number of scientists studying dogs is growing at a rapid pace. The involvement of many diverse scientific fields (anthropology, psychology, biology, ethology, neuroscience, genetics…) has allowed for a wealth of interesting data, and the pursuit of novel questions ranging from dog’s origins to the development of canine social cognition. While much of this new information is ripe for application in dog training and care, it can be challenging to know how to integrate all of this new evidence gleaned from different scientific fields, especially when different disciplines do not seem to agree. In other words, which approach is most correct? Who should dog trainers listen to?

In this talk we will take a look at how, in many cases, an understanding of multiple scientific fields can provide a more complete approach to understanding behavior, including dog behavior, than any one approach alone. Understanding science as a fluid evolving body of knowledge, and different levels of explanation as interconnected instead of competing, may provide a more useful way to think about science, especially when attempting to integrate the latest findings into dog training or other applied practices.

Learning Goals:

  • Can Biological, Developmental, Learning & Cognitive approaches all be correct?
  • Commonalities and complementary processes between approaches will be discussed
  • To reconcile or replace? Benefits of idea integration in applied work

The influence of owner/handler personality on the behavior of dogsJames Serpell, PhD

The presentation will describe and discuss the different ways in which owner/handler personality types can influence the development of behavioral problems in both companion and working dogs. Research findings suggest that more formal procedures for matching dogs to their owners/handlers based on personality factors may enhance the dog-human relationship, and that future efforts to address the behavioral problems of individual dogs should take into account the personality types of their owners/handlers.

Learning Goals:

  • To improve understanding of the links between an owner’s/handler’s personality and the behavior of his/her dog
  • To explore the implications of this for how we train dogs (and their owners)
  • To draw attention to the issue of ‘compatibility’ in dog-human relationships

Applied canine olfactory processing: What trainers need to know beyond learning theorySimon Gadbois, PhD

This presentation will focus on the complex and emerging field of “sniffer-dog” research and its applications. The field has a negative reputation of being based on “junk science,” however I will discuss the relevance of experimental psychology (psychophysics and learning), neuroscience and ethology with canine olfaction and how olfactory learning works. Here, I will point out that training for scent processing is not like other types of training and requires knowledge of fluid dynamics and psychophysics. Finally, I will discuss the importance of scientific knowledge and methodologies for two specific goals: 1) to demonstrate that canine olfaction is as amazing as it seems to be, but with data, and 2) to demonstrate that applying poor scientific methods, inadequate training protocols and controversial business practices in this field is easy and common, even if un-intentionally.

Learning Goals:

  • To learn about basic psychophysical principles, as well as odors, the olfactory system, basic fluid dynamics and the importance of ground-level microclimates
  • To understand the cognitive processes involved in olfactory processing
  • Appreciate the challenges of working with intangible, invisible stimuli, and the many environmental conditions that can be modulating them (including in lab conditions)

Coyotes, Koalas and Kangaroos: What the behavior of other animals can teach you about your dogPatricia McConnell, PhD

It goes without saying that one needs to study dog behavior to understand it. But studying dog behavior without being able to compare it with the behavior of other animals has its limits. This presentation will discuss dog behavior only in relation to the behavior of other animals, looking at broad themes like social systems, predation and reproduction as a way of understanding canine behavior at a deeper level. For example, what can the social structure of other social animals tell us about the controversy in dog training about dominance and its relation to training perspectives? Which behaviors of dogs are rare compared to other animals, and which ones are common? Understanding how the ethology of the domestic dog compares with that of other animals will enhance and deepen your understanding of who your dog really is, and how best to relate to her.

Learning Goals:

  • To understand a range of social systems in a variety of species
  • To see the bigger evolutionary picture of animal behavior and what it can tell us about dog behavior
  • To understand how putting canine behavior in perspective can inform our training perspectives