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Animals 2018, 8(12), 222;

Who’s a Good Handler? Important Skills and Personality Profiles of Wildlife Detection Dog Handlers

School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, Wildlife Science Unit, The University of Queensland, Gatton Campus, Warrego Highway, Gatton 4343, Australia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 31 October 2018 / Revised: 22 November 2018 / Accepted: 23 November 2018 / Published: 27 November 2018
(This article belongs to the Section Companion Animals)
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Simple Summary

Professional working dog teams perform a range of functions faster and more accurately than other methods. Therefore, these teams are highly valuable to our society. Whilst some information is available on the skills that are important for dog handlers to possess, this isn’t always sourced from the handlers themselves. As a result, information may be missing, or the provided information may not be relevant. Through questionnaires, we collected information on the skills that wildlife detection dog handlers believe to be important for working success. Handler personality evaluations were also completed to determine whether specific personalities are better suited to this unique working field. Knowledge and understanding of dog body language and behaviour were rated highly. The handlers’ personality profiles had large ranges, indicating that no personality is attracted to, or perhaps best suited for, working with wildlife detection dogs. Dog handler dedication, training, and the dog–handler relationship are likely more influential factors.


Wildlife detection dog teams are employed internationally for environmental surveys, and their success often depends on the dog handler. Minimal research is available on the skills that dog handlers believe are important, and no research has been published on the personality profiles of wildlife detection dog handlers. This may reveal the skills that people should acquire to be successful at, or suitable for, this work. An online questionnaire was distributed to Australian and New Zealand wildlife detection dog handlers. This questionnaire provided a list of skills to be rated based on importance, and a personality assessment measured their five main personality domains (Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness). A total of 35 questionnaires were collected, which represented over half of the estimated Australian wildlife detection dog handler population. The handlers had on average 7.2 years of dog handling experience, and 54% were female. More than half (57%) of the handlers stated that they were very emotionally attached to their dogs; however, 9% stated they were either not attached or mildly attached to their working dogs. The skill that was rated highest for importance was ‘ability to read dog body language’, and the lowest was ‘skilled in report writing’. On average, the handlers scored high in the Agreeableness domain, low in the Neuroticism domain, and average in the Extraversion, Conscientiousness, and Openness domains. However, all of the personality scores had large ranges. Therefore, a dog handler’s personality may not be as influential on their success as their training or their dog–handler bond. Further research would be beneficial regarding the direct impact that the dog–handler bond and the handler’s knowledge have on working team outcomes. View Full-Text
Keywords: dog handler; detection dog; personality; skills; dog–handler relationship dog handler; detection dog; personality; skills; dog–handler relationship
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Jamieson, L.T.J.; Baxter, G.S.; Murray, P.J. Who’s a Good Handler? Important Skills and Personality Profiles of Wildlife Detection Dog Handlers. Animals 2018, 8, 222.

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