Kennel Visits And Dog Behavior
Dogs are one of the most popular companion animals in the Western world. For example, 36% of households in the U.S. and 24% in the U.K. have at least one dog. Unfortunately, the dogs’ popularity as companions also means that many are relinquished to shelters every year. The welfare of dogs in shelters is a major concern, as they are subjected to various stressors including restricted living space and high noise levels. Many studies have focused on investigating whether shelters provide an under-stimulating environment for dogs, but few studies have looked at whether shelters may be over-stimulating instead. More specifically, studies have not tested the impacts of reducing common sensory stimuli in kennels, including the presence of human visitors.
This study from the U.K. looked at a control group of 24 singly-housed dogs with indoor and outdoor access. The dogs were not able to see each other, but they could hear and smell one another. Over the course of two-weeks, the dogs were approached by an unfamiliar human four times for one minute intervals, which is about the length of time that a potential adopter would view a dog. The dogs’ stress levels prior to, during, and after these visits were assessed by measuring a variety of indicators including changes in kennel noise levels, cortisol levels (via urine samples), repetitive behaviors (e.g., spinning in circles, pacing, bouncing), and sickness behavior (e.g., vomiting and diarrhea) .
During the two weeks prior to introducing unfamiliar human visitors, the researchers found that noise levels significantly decreased, as did the amount of time the dogs spent engaged in repetitive behaviors. Yet despite the reduction in noise levels, the presence or absence of visitors had no significant effect on physiological measures like cortisol and sickness behavior, including fecal consistency. Thus, the researchers conclude that restricting visitor access can positively impact the welfare of shelter dogs by reducing the stress created by shelter noise.
For companion animal advocates, the study presents an interesting approach to increasing the welfare of shelter animals. While shelter dogs need humans to see them in order to adopt them, an open access environment may need to be reimagined to best support dog welfare.