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Stress. 2010 Sep;13(5):392-401. doi: 10.3109/10253891003667896.

Certification testing as an acute naturalistic stressor for disaster dog handlers.

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Department of Neurology, MIND Institute, University of California at Davis, Sacramento, CA 95817, USA.


USA Federal Disaster Canine Teams, consisting of a handler and a dog, are essential for locating survivors following a disaster. Certification, required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency Urban Search and Rescue organization, requires two successful mock searches. Confirmation of the certification testing process as an acute stressor might offer further opportunities to consider stress effects on handlers and dogs in a controlled environment. This study used a pretest-posttest design to evaluate relationships between salivary hormone concentrations (cortisol and testosterone) and subjective stress ratings in handlers and controls, handler assessments of stress in their dogs, and posttest temperature and pulse rate in dogs. Posttest, both subjective stress ratings and salivary cortisol concentration were higher in handlers than controls with both correlated to handlers' assessment of stress in their dogs. Handlers' posttest salivary cortisol concentration was associated with posttest dog pulse and temperature. Posttest cortisol concentration was lower in handlers who were successfully certified compared with those who failed, and was also lower in handlers whose primary occupation was "firefighter". Salivary testosterone concentrations increased from pretest to posttest in handlers but decreased in controls, and higher posttest handler testosterone concentration was negatively associated with posttest dog pulse rate. These findings confirm certification testing as an acute stressor, suggest a relationship between stress and performance moderated by occupation, and demonstrate an interaction between handler stress and dog physiological responses. This certification testing offers a controlled environment for targeted evaluation of effects of an acute naturalistic stressor on disaster dog handlers and dogs.

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