Stress and Enrichment

The shelter is a stressful environment so anything we can do to mitigate this stress increases the welfare of sheltered dogs. In addition, reducing stress may help decrease the chances of problem behaviors developing. Less stressed dogs often present well to adopters and so may be adopted more quickly. The first step is reliably and accurately diagnosing stress in a non-invasive way; the next is determining what enrichment techniques reduce stress and for which dogs.

Activity as a measure of stress

Stress can compromise welfare in any confined group of nonhuman animals, including those in shelters. However, an objective and practical method for assessing the stress levels of individual dogs housed in a shelter does not exist. Such a method would be useful for monitoring animal welfare and would allow shelters to measure the effectiveness of specific interventions for stress reduction. In this pilot study, activity levels were studied in 13 dogs using accelerometers attached to their collars. Behavioral stress scores as well as urinary and salivary cortisol levels were measured to determine if the dogs' activity levels while confined in the kennel correlated with behavioral and physiological indicators of stress in this population. The results indicated that the accelerometer could be a useful tool to study stress-related activity levels in dogs. Specific findings included a correlation between salivary cortisol and maximum activity level (r = .62, p = .025) and a correlation between the urine cortisol-to-creatinine ratio and average activity level (r = .61, p = .028) among the study dogs. Further research is needed to better understand the complex relationship between stress and activity level among dogs in a kennel environment. Read the full study here.