Psychological Stress, Its Reduction, and Long-Term Consequences: What Studies With Laboratory Animals Might Teach Us About Life in the Dog Shelter

Scientific Journal Articles

Experiments in laboratory animals have provided the basis for studies of stress, its reduction, and its long-term consequences in shelter dogs. Stressors often used in laboratory experiments, such as uncontrollable noise and novelty, are also inherent in shelters where they produce similar physiological reactions, including elevations of circulating levels of glucocorticoid stress hormones. We review how experiments demonstrating a social partner can reduce glucocorticoid responses in the laboratory guided studies showing that human interaction can have similar positive effects on shelter dogs. We also describe recent work in which human interaction in a calming environment reduced aggressive responses of fearful shelter dogs in a temperament test used to determine suitability for adoption. Finally, we present evidence from the laboratory that stress can produce long-term effects on behavior (e.g., reduced socio-positive behavior) that may be due to glucocorticoids or other factors, and which may not occur until long after initial stress exposure. We suggest that the possibility of similar effects occurring in shelter dogs is a question deserving further study.

Hennessy, M. B., Willen, R. M., & Schiml, P. A. (2020). Psychological stress, its reduction, and long-term consequences: What studies with laboratory animals might teach us about life in the dog shelter. Animals : An Open Access Journal from MDPI, 10(11), 10.3390/ani10112061. doi:E2061 [pii]


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Topic(s): Designs that Support Good Welfare, Environment, Kennel Design, Shelter and Rescue