CZAAWE Resource Article

Is the avoidance distance test for the assessment of animals' responsiveness to humans influenced by either the dominant or flightiest animal in the group?
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Applied Animal Behaviour Science
A previously described (Windschnurer et al., 2009) avoidance distance test was used to assess animals' fear of humans in order to quantify the human-animal relationship (HAR). This study investigated the influence of the dominant and flightiest animals within a group on the responsiveness of animals during the avoidance distance test. Eighty-eight pregnant heifers comprised of four different genotypes were used (22 animals per genotype): Limousin × Holstein-Friesian, Limousin × Simmental, Charolais × Limousin, and Charolais × Simmental. Sixty of the 88 heifers were group housed (n = 5) into 12 pens with 3 pens per breed, while 28 heifers were singly housed (seven heifers per breed). A reactivity test was performed on days 10, 18, 25 and 30 post-housing on the singly housed heifers, and then on the group housed heifers, on the same days, to calculate a reactivity score. On days 33 and 37 flight and dominance tests, respectively, were performed to identify the flightiest and the dominant animal within each group. On day 41, an avoidance test, measuring both the avoidance distance towards a familiar and an unfamiliar human, was performed on all heifers. No difference (P > 0.05) in reactivity scores was found between the genotypes, between pens for the group housed heifers or between singly housed and group housed heifers (P = 0.28). The avoidance distance (AD) of singly (S) housed heifers towards a familiar (F) (ADSF) human was shorter (P < 0.001) than the avoidance distance of group (G) housed heifers towards an unfamiliar human (ADSU). The ADSF and ADGF were correlated with the ADSU and ADGU (R = 0.87 for singly housed heifers; R = 0.61 for group housed heifers, P < 0.001). For the singly housed heifers, no correlation was observed between reactivity score and ADSF (R = 0.36, P = 0.18), whereas the reactivity score and ADSU were correlated (R = 0.68, P = 0.004). For the group housed heifers no significant correlation was detected between the reactivity score and ADGF (R = 0.18, P = 0.22) or ADGU (R = -0.11, P = 0.39). No influence of the most dominant animal and the flightiest animals was found on the behaviour of the group in term of avoidance distance and reactivity (P > 0.05). It is concluded that the assessment of the fear of the animals towards humans using the avoidance test at the feed bunk may be useful for singly and group housed heifers and that the leaders of a group such as the flightiest animal or the dominant animal did not influence the avoidance distance test.