Canine behavior is a critical facet of shelter housing and management and plays a major role in determining an animal's adoptability and welfare. Most municipal shelters rely on single-dog housing where kennel size may be restricted. Previous studies1,2 suggest that singly housed dogs may be predisposed to stereotypic behaviors, such as circling, digging, floor licking, and frequent changes from one state of locomotion to another (ie, changing from walking to jumping, from standing to spinning, and from sitting to pacing). Such behaviors have been correlated with chronic stress and may be indicators of poor welfare.2–4 Adding to this concern, dogs that are chronically restricted from social exposure have increased physiological stress responses (eg, increased urine cortisol-to-creatinine concentration ratios), hormonal and immunologic changes (eg, neutrophilia), and behaviors associated with fear and distress (low posture, autogrooming, paw lifting, and vocalization).2,3 Because behavioral and associated physiologic changes pose substantial welfare concerns in dogs,4–6 shelters strive to increase calm, affiliative behaviors as best possible.
Environmental enrichment may be a way to mitigate the effects of the stress associated with the shelter environment. A review of enrichment for kenneled dogs suggests that a variety of animate and inanimate enrichment increases the complexity of dog behavior and helps prevent undesirable behavior,7,8 allowing for improved animal welfare in the shelter environment. Animate enrichment with human social contact has been shown to increase affiliative behavior in shelter dogs, both toward dogs and people.9,10 Furthermore, inanimate enrichment in the form of food-filled toys also promotes desirable behaviors in shelter dogs.11 The provision of such toys also seems to enhance adoptability and public preference for shelter dogs.12,13 Enrichment programs that incorporate behavior training (obedience) have also been shown to improve adoptability.12 This is essential in shelter environments because lengthy shelter stays have been correlated with a worsening of behavior and the potential for poor welfare.14
Although previous studies have examined the effects of specific enrichment procedures on the behavior of kenneled dogs, none have assessed the overall effects on behaviors in response to a complex enrichment program that involves both animate and inanimate forms of enrichment and behavior training. The purpose of the study reported here was to determine the effect of food-toy enrichment combined with cage-behavior training on desirable behaviors in shelter dogs and adoption rates. We hypothesized that shelter dogs receiving a complex program of environmental enrichment would have improved behavior, compared with those not receiving it. Specifically, we hypothesized that this enrichment program would lead to an increase in desirable behaviors (sitting, being quiet, making eye contact, and approaching the front of the kennel) and a decrease in undesirable behaviors (jumping, vocalizing, and remaining in the back of the kennel). Given that past studies12 have linked some of these desirable behaviors (alertness and position at the front of the cage) with increased adoption rates, we also hypothesized that a complex enrichment program would increase the adoption rates for dogs enrolled.
Freeze Dried Liver Training Treats, Bil-Jac, Medina, Ohio.
Kong Co, Golden, Colo.
Shelter Buddy, Centennial, Colo.
Stata, version 9.1, StataCorp, College Station, Tex.
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