New CSD Study Finds Activity Levels May Be Key to Identifying Stress in Shelter Dogs

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Although it seems obvious when you see it, it can sometimes be difficult to identify harmful stress in shelter dogs. Shelters are stressful places for dogs, even when we provide an enriched, stimulating, supportive environment. There has been a lot of research in the last few years working on ways to identify stress because once we can accurately identify it, we can actively intercede and do something to minimize the causes of stress and reduce the harmful effects of chronic stress on shelter dogs. The Center for Shelter Dogs is excited to contribute to this important area of research with the publication of our latest study, “Use of Accelerometers to Measure Stress Levels in Shelter Dogs”, published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. In this pilot study, we set out to explore if the dogs’ activity levels while confined in a kennel correlated with behavioral and physiological indicators of stress. To do this, we measured the activity level of 13 shelter dogs using special devices called accelerometers attached to their collars. These devices measure movement, like a pedometer you may wear to measure your walking or running activity. We also measured urinary and salivary cortisol levels, which are biological indicators of stress, along with observing the dogs’ behavior in their kennels. The results indicated that activity is associated with cortisol levels and, therefore, the accelerometer could be a useful tool to study stress-related activity in dogs. More research is needed, but paying attention to a dog’s activity in the kennel, when people or other dogs are not around, may be useful as very active or inactive dogs may actually be exhibiting signs of significant stress. Installing video cameras, even old iPods or smartphones with a video recording function, and recording at night or during quiet times in the shelter, could be helpful to understanding a dog’s stress level. To learn more about stress in shelter dogs, see our Transition and Stress page.