The influence of environmental change on the behaviour of sheltered dogs

Links between shelter dogs’ cage environments, their behaviour and desirability to potential buyers

source: Deborah L. Wells and Peter G. Hepper
Applies Animal Behaviour Science (68) 2000
starts p151, 12 pages long

Links between dogs’ behaviour, their cage environment, and desirability to potential purchasers, have been examined at an Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelter in Northern Ireland. Dogs are more likely to be bought if they are alert at the front of their pens, and quiet, rather than asleep at the back of their pens and barking. Potential buyers also find dogs to be more attractive if the environment is complex.

The sample comprised 120 dogs, studied over a four-hour period. Most dogs in the sample were aged between one and five-years-old, and crossbreeds, found wandering as strays. Three changes were made, they had more social stimulation, the bed at the front rather than the back of their cages, and a toy bone suspended at the front. The dogs’ behaviour was affected by having the bed at the front of their pens, and by more social stimulation, in that they spent more time at the front. They also tended to be more alert with more social stimulation. Alertness was little affected by having the bed at the front. The dogs tended to use their beds more when the beds were at the back of the cages. The dogs tended to bark a little more when there was more social stimulation, but not when the bed was at the front. Having a toy at the front had little effect on behaviour, either in terms of whether the dog was at the front, or levels of alertness, nor did it have an effect on barking.

Sales of these shelter dogs increased with all three measures. An increase in social stimulation produced the greatest change in behaviour, and boosted sales more than either of the other two changes. The increase in barking did not appear to put potential buyers off, and in any case was only slight. Curiously, sales increased when toys were present, though this did not actually affect the dogs’ behaviour, rather it affected potential buyers’ perceptions of the dogs. Presence of a toy, in fact, increased sales more than having a bed at the front.

Shelters could place toys in dogs’ cages in order to make them appear more attractive, and could have shorter visiting hours so that the dogs have more social stimulation when the potential buyers do arrive, so the dogs are more likely to appear at the front of their cages, and look more alert, so have more chance of being adopted.