Amaya, V., Paterson, M. B. A., Descovich, K., et al. 2020. Effects of olfactory and auditory enrichment on heart rate variability in shelter dogs. Animals 10(8), 1385.
Animal shelters can be stressful environments and time in care may affect individual dogs in negative ways, so it is important to try to reduce stress and arousal levels to improve welfare and chance of adoption. A key element of the stress response is the activation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and a non-invasive tool to measure this activity is heart rate variability (HRV). Physiologically, stress and arousal result in the production of corticosteroids, increased heart rate and decreased HRV. Environmental enrichment can help to reduce arousal related behaviours in dogs and this study focused on sensory environmental enrichment using olfactory and auditory stimuli with shelter dogs. The aim was to determine if these stimuli have a physiological effect on dogs and if this could be detected through HRV. Sixty dogs were allocated to one of three stimuli groups: lavender, dog appeasing pheromone and music or a control group, and usable heart rate variability data were obtained from 34 dogs. Stimuli were applied for 3 h a day on five consecutive days, with HRV recorded for 4 h (treatment period + 1 h post-treatment) on the 5th and last day of exposure to the stimuli by a Polar® heart rate monitor attached to the dog’s chest. HRV results suggest that music activates both branches of the ANS, which may be useful to relieve both the stress and boredom in shelter environments.