Man's best friend an even better employee with fivefold return on investment
1 November 2013
Working dogs make a considerable financial contribution to Australia's rural sector, providing an impressive fivefold return on investment.
This is just one insight into working dogs to be presented at the inaugural Australian Working Dog Conference to be held at the University of Sydney on 4-5 November.
The conference, featuring the latest research from the University's Faculty of Veterinary Science, will bring together working dog breeders, trainers, veterinarians, research scientists, advocacy groups and government representatives from Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and America.
"We know we can get even more out of working dogs, and best of all, in the process, give the dogs a better life," said conference co-founder Professor Paul McGreevy, from the University's Faculty of Veterinary Science. "We aim to improve communication and collaboration between scientific researchers and industry professionals."
Research presentations from the faculty include a study on the economic impact of farm dogs. Using data from over 800 farmers, the study estimated the value of the typical Australian herding dog.
Researchers found the median cost involved in owning a herding dog is $7,763 over the period of its working life, with work performed by the dog throughout this time having an estimated median value of $40,000.
"Herding dogs typically provided their owners with a 5.2 fold return on investment. Interestingly, given the value of their work, the median amount owners would consider spending on veterinary care for their most valued working dogs was between $1000 and $2000," said Professor McGreevy, a researcher on the study.
"There are an estimated 273,000 working dogs in Australia, mainly on cattle and sheep farms, so this is a fascinating insight into the financial contribution they make to the rural sector."
"By detailing the value of the typical herding dog, we hope to equip producers with information that may be used to improve on-farm labour efficiency and profitability," said Liz Arnott, lead researcher on the study and a country vet.
The Faculty of Veterinary Science has also developed a tool to assess a dog's emotional state. By judging how dogs respond to a series of trained tasks it is possible to assess their emotional state and open a window on their overall personality. The tests could identify dogs with emotional attributes suitable for service work and could help customise their training.
The conference includes an update on ongoing University of Sydney research on the genetic basis to dogs' anxiety, especially distress experienced when they are separated from their owners.
The conference includes an update on the Australian Farm Dog survey that identified valuable behavioural working attributes and personality traits in Australian herding dogs. It has found that farm dog handlers consider 'boldness' as one of the most important attributes in a dog.
The research on working dogs was funded by the Working Kelpie Council of Australia, the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and Meat and Livestock Australia.
Professor McGreevy is the co-founder of the Working Dog Alliance.
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