Shelter dogs are generally still anxious after their first 12 days

A study from Utrecht University’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine researched the extent of anxiety among dogs who been rescued and placed in animal shelters. They used night cameras and a small activity tracker on the dogs’ collars and cortisol measurements in the urine both of which are indicators of stress.

Shelter dogs are normally restless and stressed for at least 12 days from entry at the shelter
Shelter dogs are normally restless and stressed for at least 12 days from entry at the shelter. Photo: Pixabay.

They found that, in general, dogs were still anxious after 12 days at a rescue centre although it varied between individual dogs. And they found that they were more active during the night than domestic dogs in good homes. Smaller dog breeds appear to become more nervous at animal shelters than larger dogs.

The study observed 29 shelter dogs and 29 pet dogs in their own homes. Although, as expected, the dogs’ restlessness declined over those first 12 days it was still present at the end of that period and in general the dogs rested less at night than pet dogs.

As mentioned, there were big differences between individual dogs. Some were relatively calm during the first night at the shelter while other dogs barely slept for their first few nights.

The researchers concluded that dogs need at least two days but often considerably longer to get used to their new environment.

They recommend that shelter workers pay close attention to dogs that are unable to rest properly after several nights. They suggested that they may be able to help them rest better by moving them to a less busy area of the shelter.

Comment: this doesn’t surprise me. It would seem to impinge upon shelter workers’ assessment of the personality of the dogs in their charge. They have to assess them based on their behaviour to decide whether they are suitable as domestic animals so that they can be rehomed. If the dogs are anxious, they will not behave normally and therefore an accurate assessment on behaviour cannot be made.

I would hope that this research helps shelter workers understand this obstacle to proper assessment of personality. It indicates that they should wait at least a few days before attempting to assess shelter dogs and they should be sensitive to variations between individuals in terms of their stress levels.

What I fear is that many dogs have been euthanised (better description is killed) because they’ve been mis-assessed due to the anxiety that these dogs were experiencing. The same by the way goes for cats at cat and animal shelters. I see this as a major barrier to a fair approach to each individual animal at shelters.


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