About the C-BARQ

The Canine Behavioral Assessment & Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ) is a standardized, behavioral evaluation tool for dog owners/guardians, handlers and professionals. It was developed and validated by Yuying Hsu and James Serpell in 2003, and has been available for completion via a publicly accessible online website since 2005. At the time of writing, the C-BARQ database at the University of Pennsylvania now contains detailed behavioral evaluations for approximately 50,000 pet dogs comprising more than 300 different breeds and cross-breeds.

Although sometimes described as a form of canine personality assessment, the C-BARQ was originally designed to measure the prevalence and severity of behavioral problems in privately-owned and working dogs, and that remains its primary value and purpose. Behavior problems are widely acknowledged to be the most important cause of premature death (by euthanasia) in companion dogs, as well as being the primary reason why dogs are surrendered to animal shelters and rescue groups. They also contribute to dogs being neglected or abandoned by their owners, and/or subjected to punitive, and generally inhumane, training techniques. Among working dogs, behavioral problems are the single most common reason why dogs are released from training programs.

Why so many dogs develop behavior problems is currently one of the key issues in canine welfare. As a reliable, validated method for measuring behavior and behavior problems in dogs, the C-BARQ has a crucial role to play in addressing this vitally important concern.

The C-BARQ is a survey aimed at dog owners/guardians and handlers that provides a set of numerical scores for the following fourteen different categories of dog behavior:

  1. Stranger-directed aggression: Threatening or hostile responses to strangers approaching or invading the dog's or owner's personal space, territory, or home range.
  2. Owner-directed aggression: Threatening or hostile responses to the owner or other members of the household when challenged, manhandled, stared at, stepped over, or when approached while in possession of food or objects.
  3. Dog-directed aggression: Threatening or hostile responses when approached by unfamiliar dogs.
  4. Dog rivalry: Threatening or hostile responses to other familiar dogs in the same household.
  5. Stranger-directed fear: Fearful or wary responses when approached by strangers.
  6. Nonsocial fear: Fearful or wary responses to sudden or loud noises, traffic, and unfamiliar objects and situations.
  7. Dog-directed fear: Fearful or wary responses when approached by unfamiliar dogs.
  8. Separation-related behavior: Vocalizing and/or destructiveness when separated from the owner, often accompanied or preceded by behavioral and autonomic signs of anxiety including restlessness, loss of appetite, trembling, and excessive salivation.
  9. Attachment and attention-seeking: Maintaining close proximity to the owner or other members of the household, soliciting affection or attention, and displaying agitation when the owner gives attention to third parties.
  10. Trainability: Willingness to attend to the owner, obey simple commands, learn quickly, fetch objects, respond positively to correction, and ignore distracting stimuli.
  11. Chasing: Chasing cats, birds, and/or other small animals, given the opportunity.
  12. Excitability: Displaying strong reactions to potentially exciting or arousing events, such as going for walks or car trips, doorbells, arrival of visitors, and the owner arriving home; has difficulty settling down after such events.
  13. Touch sensitivity: Fearful or wary responses to potentially painful procedures, including bathing, grooming, nail-clipping, and veterinary examinations.
  14. Energy level: Energetic, “always on the go”, and/or playful.

In addition, the C-BARQ provides information on the occurrence of a further 22 miscellaneous behavior problems ranging from coprophagia to stereotypic spinning/tail-chasing.

In addition to ordinary dog owners interested in comparing their pets to other dogs in the database, the C-BARQ has become an invaluable tool for a wide variety of dog-related organizations, groups, and projects. Enrollment is open to all dog owners and groups from around the world.

Working Dog Organizations

In the last year, some 25 different guide and service dog organizations—including the five largest in the United States1—have used the C-BARQ routinely to evaluate the behavior of their puppies as they progress through the puppy-raising process. These evaluations allow instantaneous comparisons with other assistance dogs in the database, can alert the organizations to the onset of behavioral problems so that these can be targeted for early training interventions, and provide an objective standard against which to track the overall behavioral progress of dogs over time. Puppy C-BARQ evaluations can also be used to 'predict' an individual dog's likelihood of success/failure in subsequent training and field service. The C-BARQ database now contains behavioral assessments for more than 35,000 working assistance dogs making it probably the most valuable and accessible resource on working dog behavior in the world.

Shelters, Adoption Centers, Rescue Groups and Fostering Agencies

Canine behavior problems are a significant concern for animal shelters and adoption centers. Problem behaviors are generally ranked as the most common reason why dogs are surrendered by their owners, and behaviorally problematic dogs may be returned post-adoption, or pose a danger to shelter staff, adopting owners, or other members of the public and their animals. Shelters need reliable and accurate methods of screening dogs for the presence of behavior problems at the time of relinquishment. The C-BARQ, and especially its short form (the mini C-BARQ; Duffy, Kruger & Serpell, 2015), provides shelters and adoption centers with a valuable tool for screening dogs on intake; and when used in combination with in-house temperament tests, can help to guide rational intervention and adoption strategies. C-BARQ assessments while dogs are in temporary foster care also provide valuable insights, while post-adoption behavioral counseling is greatly facilitated by asking adopting owners to complete a C-BARQ.

Trainers and Behavior Counselors

The current classification of canine behavior problems is almost as diverse as the dogs themselves. One of the beauties of the C-BARQ is that it provides a simple descriptive classification of behavior based on data derived from literally thousands of dogs. As each new dog is entered into the database, its scores are compared automatically with this very large reference sample of dogs using standard algorithms. These comparisons are presented in the form of simple charts in which the individual dog's scores are appropriately color-coded to signify when they fall outside the normal range. And, because each dog's results are based on calculated population averages, the C-BARQ assessment provides a truly objective diagnosis of the relative severity of the dog's problems. The website is set up to provide one initial assessment of each dog and two follow-up assessments, thereby providing professional trainers with an objective 'baseline' against which changes and improvements can be monitored before and after behavior modification or training.

Breeders and Breed Groups

Responsible dog breeders seek to produce puppies with reliable temperaments and few, if any, behavioral problems. Unfortunately, breeding decisions based on selecting sires and dams for sound temperament do not always work out as expected. Once puppies are sold or adopted, it is generally difficult to obtain reliable follow-up information about their behavior as they mature. However, using the C-BARQ, this type of information is readily accessible simply by asking puppy buyers to complete the questionnaire 1 or 2 years after purchasing a puppy. Thus, the C-BARQ is an invaluable tool for developing and maintaining breed-specific behavioral profiles over time. Currently 9 different breeders and breed clubs—including the Newfoundland Club of America—are using the C-BARQ. With it, breeders can easily evaluate the behavior of the offspring of particular sires and dams; monitor the progress of behavioral selection within breeds or lineages over time, and obtain reliable phenotypic measures of behavior for future genetic studies of temperament.

Canine Scientists and Students

In the field of canine science, the C-BARQ is widely employed as the go-to research tool for quantifying behavior in dogs. Since 2004, the C-BARQ has been used as a standardized measure of canine behavior in more than 70 published studies on topics ranging from estimating the prevalence and severity of canine behavior problems in different countries, to validating temperament tests for working and shelter dogs, to assessing the long-term behavioral effects of keeping dogs in stressful circumstances, such as puppy mills or hoarding situations (view a list of published studies). Many of these important projects would not have been possible without the existence of a reliable, validated instrument for evaluating behavior in dogs, such as the C-BARQ. Existing C-BARQ data are also available to researchers interested in undertaking collaborative work with the Center for the Interactions of Animals and Society (CIAS). For more information about this, please contact Dr. James Serpell (serpell@vet.upenn.edu) directly.

1 Guide Dogs for the Blind (CA), The Seeing Eye (NJ), Guiding Eyes for the Blind (NY), Leader Dogs for the Blind (MI), and Canine Companions for Independence (CA).

“Guiding Eyes for the Blind has been using C-BARQ since 2003 to collect data on all of the puppies we produce from the people who know them best, their owners and puppy raisers. Data collection is easy through a web-based questionnaire that takes owners about 15 minutes to complete. CBARQ data has helped direct decisions in our socialization and puppy raising programs by identifying differences in behavior over time and between groups of dogs receiving different protocols. C-BARQ data has also been shared with researchers across the world to gain insight into the frequency and genetic aspects of behavior.”
Jane Russenberger, Director, Genetics & Breeding, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, NY

“The C-BARQ has been an invaluable tool for our research investigating the critically important behavioral and psychological characteristics of dogs that have experienced different types of adversity, such as abuse, hoarding, and confinement in puppy mills. In human psychology there currently exist a wide array of instruments for assessing such factors in children and adults who have endured stressful experiences, but the C-BARQ is our only comparable instrument for making these types of assessments in dogs. Its value is difficult to overstate, and the groups of dogs that can benefit from its use has just begun to be tapped. I am currently designing C-BARQ studies to evaluate dogs that are paralyzed and otherwise disabled, blind, retired racing Greyhounds, dogs formerly used in organized fighting, survivors of natural disasters (e.g., storms, earthquakes, wildfires), and neglect. The C-BARQ unquestionably allows us to enhance our understanding of dogs with psychological challenges and thereby leads us to more effective methods for treatment and rehabilitation.”
Frank McMillan, Director of Well-Being Studies, Best Friends Animal Society, UT

"The CBARQ is the one validated tool Canine Companions has to characterize our dogs' behavior as observed by their puppy raisers during their first eighteen months of development. This assessment allows us to more accurately assess our dogs and assign them to the working role and environment that is best suited to each dog."
Paul Mundell, former CEO, Canine Companions for Independence, CA

“The C-BARQ has been an invaluable tool for our research team over the past few years. It has offered a user-friendly and reliable means of assessing the temperament of pet dogs. We have used the tool successfully at undergraduate, postgraduate and postdoctoral level for a range of studies concerned with canine personality and the classification of behaviour problems. I am delighted to hear that there is now a feline equivalent of this test.”
Dr. Deborah Wells, School of Psychology, Queen's University of Belfast, UK

“For over a year, the Steering Committee of the Newfoundland Club of America, discussed anecdotal observations and second hand reports of behavioral issues in Newfoundland dogs. So we felt we needed to gather real data to understand the status of the temperament of Newfoundlands today. One of our members discovered the C-BARQ survey and we immediately decided that this was exactly what we needed. The survey first went live in December 2015, and since that time almost 800 surveys have been completed (To put this in perspective, there are about 3,000 Newfoundlands registered by the AKC each year). As a result, we have identified a handful of undesirable behaviors that a few Newfoundlands (less than 20 in all) exhibit. This will allow us to provide training and helpful materials that address the most common issues that a Newfoundland owner might encounter. In addition, we now have a good reference point against which to measure the results of future behavioral surveys. We plan to repeat this effort every five years or so. Our affiliated Rescue programs, which have been providing placement services for Newfoundlands surrendered by their original owners for over 30 years, will also use the survey as an aide in the assessment and placement of dogs.”
Christopher Plum, Newfoundland Club of America.

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