The “Field” Research Project


Often times our research projects require a minimum number of dogs that cannot be reached at the Animal Rescue League of Boston.  It forces us to look for a larger facility with a sufficient number of dogs.

And, it is always nice to find a shelter with a big air conditioned room available to utilize.  However, in many shelters the situation is far from the above. Though, this story is not about us struggling with research constraints but about one particular research project that went incredibly well in spite of a few bumps in the road.

There is a fair amount of interest in the field to know the difference in shelter dogs’ reactions toward a fake and a real dog on a standardized behavior evaluation.  Some great research about this topic has already been published and presented during various conferences. The Center for Shelter Dogs decided to add to the existing research and conduct an experimental design in a local shelter where shelter dogs would be assessed on a standardized “dog-to-dog interaction” assessment, taken from the Match-Up II Behavior Evaluation, using a fake dog and a real dog.


From the first phone conversation we were smitten by the enthusiasm of the Worcester Animal Rescue League’s staff and decided to implement our “fake dog“ project in this suburban shelter. The biggest obstacle was the lack of inside space, so we decided to evaluate all of the dogs in the outside fenced yard. It is a challenging experience to implement a research project outside when standardization is a very crucial factor and all dogs have to be evaluated under similar conditions. So, it took us some time to figure out the best way to assess dogs outside as well as navigate in such a big shelter as WARL. However, the staff was so warm and helpful, Liz Fay, Behavior Specialist at the WARL, worked with us side by side during the entire two days of the evaluations, helping us to navigate in the shelter and get dogs out of their kennels. And, a particular thanks to the New England weather that happened to be absolutely gorgeous for the entire period of the study. So, the second day of the study, when the logistics were running smoothly, the entire team could soak up some vitamin D while enjoying the interaction of doggies with our fake dog “Lady” and a super friendly real dog Ferris.

As you can see, if you have a passionate team, a great cooperative shelter and warm weather, a “field” research study can be just as amazing as a “room” one.

We are expecting to share the results from our “Fake Dog” study next year. So please stay tuned to learn more!

-Anastasia Shabelansky, Research Analyst at the at the Center for Shelter Dogs

-Seana Dowling, Research Director at the Center for Shelter Dogs