Stress Busters for Shelter Dogs

I was more than thrilled last week to find a science-based review of shelter stress in dogs. Not only is the article a fantastic review of research in this area for the last decade or so but, it turns out the author, Mike Hennessy, (see reference below) is practically down the road from me (Hennessy is a researcher at Wright State). I recently contacted Mike and he invited me to come observe the data collection for a study he is conducting with a nearby animal shelter. So, I'll have the opportunity to watch a skilled applied researcher and his graduate student work with shelter dogs. I'll be sure to post an update on the visit so please stay tuned. In the meantime, I wanted to highlight just a fraction of the information in Hennessy's recent article. 

 

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Get the Word Out. Get the Dog Out.

Much has been written about "no kill" versus "kill" animal shelters (note: The agonizing but needed ongoing discussions about what these terms mean at both the philosophical and practical level is a topic for another article).

For now, I will simply note that having worked with shelters across the spectrum, there is typically an urgency that permeates the work of shelters which are euthanizing animals due to space. If you're reading this blog, you're probably the type of person whose Facebook news feed assaults you daily with this type of message. And indeed, these type of posts are effective at saving the lives of many animals at the last minute. (I think there must be some sort of yet unknown specific reward center in our brain that feels the urgency of such requests and then the sweet flood of relief when we find out that  the dog or cat has been successfully pulled from the jaws of death). 

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Why Can't You Be Good?

“Should we talk about Otis?" asked one of the shelter volunteers. Just before that question had been asked, I had mentally begun to think about wrapping up the day long training session at the shelter. As soon as the question was hanging out there, I spotted an unusual number of glances that shot back and forth between members of the group. It was as if everything that had gone on before this moment were just appetizers; "Otis" was clearly the entree. No one from this group wanted to go anywhere until the situation with Otis had been resolved. "Sure", I said. Then I asked the volunteer to fill me on Otis. 

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Walkie vs. Dog Park?

Dog owners and trainers the world over will attest to how much most dogs crave being physically active. Many dog owners report that simply picking up a leash will result in their dog doing a "happy dance" or a variation thereof.  Similarly, if you spend some time outside almost any dog park you're likely to see enthusiastic displays on the part of dogs as they make their way to the entry of the park. In fact, you've likely witnessed the dogs that are so excited about prospect of going into the dog park that their owners have given up trying to get the dog to walk politely on leash and simply allow their dogs to run unleashed from the car to the gate of the park (note: the unleashed dog beelining to the gate of the dog park is not a good idea for a lot of reasons but it is indeed an unvarnished testimonial from dogs about their priorities). 

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