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Behavioural differences between three breed groups of hunting dogs confronted with domestic sheep


The aim of the present study was to investigate the inclination to chase sheep in three breed groups of hunting dogs that are most frequently used in areas with grazing sheep. We studied 41 elkhounds, 29 hare hunting dogs and 68 English setters. Behaviours indicative of motivation for chasing or attacking sheep were examined in three different ways. A path test examined functional traits such as hunting ability, contact willingness, reactivity to sudden noise, and response towards a lone sheep. In a sheep confrontation test, loose-leashed dogs were observed in a fenced enclosure with sheep and given electric shocks through an electronic dog collar if within 1-2 m from the sheep. A questionnaire to the dog owners supplied information on their dog’s previous experience with sheep and behavioural responses to various types of novel stimuli. No significant sex differences were found. The elkhounds showed the highest interest in a lone sheep in the path test, and displayed the highest initial hunting motivation, the highest percentage of dogs starting a sheep attack, the highest attack severity, and were most frequently given el. shocks. The hare hunting dogs were intermediate, while setters showed the lowest values for these variables. Dogs reported as showing low fearfulness more frequently acted as potential sheep chasers in the tests. Dogs up to three years of age showed a more pronounced initial hunting motivation and more frequent attacks than older dogs, although there were no age differences in the no. of el. shocks given in the test. The main factors predicting a high hunting motivation and attack severity were lack of previous opportunity to chase sheep, low fearfulness towards gunshots and unfamiliar people, and general interest in sheep shown when encountering them.


Academic article




  • Frank Otto Christiansen
  • Morten Bakken
  • Bjarne Olai Braastad


  • SINTEF Digital / Technology Management
  • Norges miljø- og biovitenskapelige universitet



Published in

Applied Animal Behaviour Science










115 - 129

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