Influence of Male and Female Petters on Plasma Cortisol and Behaviour: Can Human Interaction Reduce the Stress of Dogs in a Public Animal Shelter?

Scientific Journal Articles

During their second or third day in public animal shelter, juvenile/adult dogs were exposed to a venipuncture procedure. Then the dogs were either not petted or were petted in a prescribed manner by either a man or a woman; 20 min later, a second blood sample was collected. There was a clear increase in cortisol levels 20 min after the first venipuncture in juvenile/adult dogs that were not petted, but not in dogs that were petted by either a man or a woman. Additional comparisons showed that the petting procedure also inhibited the cortisol response following venipuncture in puppies. However, petting did not reduce the cortisol response to housing in the shelter per se. During petting, dogs made few attempts to escape, frequently were observed in a relaxed posture, and panting was common in juvenile/adult dogs. When dogs were petted immediately following removal from the living cage, those petted by women yawned more often and spent more time in a relaxed, head-up posture. Together, these results indicate that a previously observed sex difference in the effectiveness of petters in reducing the cortisol response was not due to some difference in odor or other nonbehavioural stimulus quality of men and women. Subtle aspects of petting technique appear to have pronounced effects on physiological and possibly behavioural responses of dogs confined in a shelter. Petting may be an effective means of reducing the cortisol responses of dogs to other common aversive situations, such as routine medical examinations and vaccination procedures at veterinary clinics as well as shelters.

Hennessy, M.B., Williams, M.T., Miller, D.D., Douglas, C.W., and Voith, V.L. (1998). Influence of male and female petters on plasma cortisol and behaviour: Can human interaction reduce the stress of dogs in a public animal shelter? Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 61, 63-77


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Topic(s): Behavior, Breeder Resource, Dog to People - Low Stress Handling, Social Interactions