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Labrador retrievers are one of the most common working dog breeds in the world and more likely to become overweight; studies show nearly 20% of Labrador retrievers trained to be guide dogs carry a mutation associated with obesity. The extra pounds can contribute to health problems over time for working dogs such as arthritis, cancer and heart failure, problems that affect quality of life and can contribute to shortened lifespans. In addition, these dogs often are raised and trained using food as an incentive for performance that can complicate weight management efforts. Researchers will explore alternative training practices for dogs in training as guide dogs for the blind, including Labrador retrievers, using non-food award strategies. All puppies will be screened for the overweight/obesity gene. The team then will compare results of puppies with and without the obesity-associated gene as well as comparing those trained with and without food incentives. Findings will inform new training practices to help improve the health and well-being of working dogs as well as benefiting working dog owners who rely on these animals to improve their own quality of life.

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The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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Gila Kahila Bar-Gal, PhD