Wagging more, barking less: Glucocorticoid and behavioral responses of shelter dogs to human interaction
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Dogs are the most common household pet in the United States , yet millions of dogs are relinquished to animal shelters each year . Even in a well-run and attentive shelter, dogs are introduced to a variety of psychological stressors and experience a substantial increase in glucocorticoid levels . Exercise, play, and human contact are simple and cost-effective means that shelters can adopt to optimize the welfare of their dogs  by promoting positive experiences within the kennel environment . The present study examined whether interacting with a consistent volunteer or with rotating volunteers more effectively reduced physiological and behavioral indicators of stress in shelter dogs. Over the course of several days, shelter dogs were subjected to working with a consistent volunteer or with rotating volunteers. Urine and fecal samples were assayed for glucocorticoid metabolites (GCM) and behavior was coded using thirty-second scan sampling. Though there was no significant difference in any of the variables between the two treatment groups, approach latency and the percentage of time spent resting decreased considerably over time for both groups of dogs. Additionally, urine GCM/creatinine levels and frequency of behaviors associated with poor welfare generally decreased over time. These results suggest that mere human interaction rather than the development of the dog-human bond appears to be effective at reducing stress in kenneled dogs. However, due to the small sample size and experimental limitations, using human contact to reduce stress in shelter dogs warrants further investigation.
Franklin and Marshall College Archives, Undergraduate Honors Thesis 2017
- F&M Theses Collection