The use of plush toy dogs to help evaluate dog-friendliness would make animal shelter canine behavior evaluations much safer and easier. But does a dog's behavior with a plush toy accurately predict his behavior with the real thing?
A recent study in Applied Animal Behaviour Science found dogs who are friendly to plush dogs tend to react with friendliness to real dogs. However, the authors reported:
These results suggest that, while it may be possible to use a fake dog for the dog-to-dog subtest to assess friendly behavior toward other dogs, fearful and aggressive behaviors may not be consistent between the fake and real dogs, thus limiting the usefulness of the fake dog during behavior evaluations. In addition, the results of this study suggest more research is needed into the predictive validity of both fake and real dogs, since it appears the stimulus dog, whether fake or real, can influence the subtest's results.
Anastasia Shabelansky, Seana Dowling-Guyer, Hilary Quist, Sheila Segurson D’Arpino, Emily McCobb, Consistency of shelter dogs’ behavior toward a fake versus real stimulus dog during a behavior evaluation, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 163, February 2015, Pages 158-166, ISSN 0168-1591, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2014.12.001