Agility, one of the last dog activities to gain formal recognition, tests both dog's athleticism and dog-handler affinity. Although this activity seems to be enjoyed by dogs, it can be a stressful event. The level of stress in dogs can be measured by behavioral and physiological parameters. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the occurrence of stress-dependent behavioral changes in a group of 17 agility dogs before, during, and after competition, coupled with the pre- and post-race salivary levels of cortisol, which is a key stress indicator. Different behavioral patterns were found in the dogs studied. They displayed several behaviors referable to stress: restlessness was observed at all time points (P < 0.05); trembling, panting, and tail wagging occurred before the competition (P < 0.05), whereas body shaking was significantly more present after the competition (P < 0.05). The salivary levels of cortisol increased after the round, although they remained within the physiological range and were not significantly correlated with behavioral alterations. Results showed that agility competitions could be potentially stressful for the dog. The coupled evaluation of physiological and behavioral responses may provide an accurate in-field estimation of animal well-being. The results also emphasize the need for further investigations to explore the effects of competition-related stressors on canine welfare. © 2011 Elsevier Inc.
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