Dare, P., Strasser, R. 2023. Ruff morning? The use of environmental enrichment during an acute stressor in kenneled shelter dogs. Animals 13(9), 1506.

The length of stay for some animals has increased with the recent reduction of animals euthanized in US shelters and animal control facilities. Research examining the effectiveness of different types of enrichment on buffering the effects of acute daily stressors in the shelter environment, such as kennel cleaning, is lacking. In addition, daily known stressors can result in undesirable behaviors that could lead to a need for euthanasia. Ways to effectively reduce the effects of daily stressors while optimizing strained resources is currently a high priority. In this study, we presented shelter dogs with food, tactile, and scent enrichment items to increase (arousing) or decrease (calming) activity during the daily stressor of morning kennel cleaning. We found that calming, rather than arousing, enrichment items were associated with body position scores indicative of lower stress in dogs, with calming scent enrichment (lavender) producing the most significant benefit. In contrast, items that showed the greatest reduction in vocalization were arousing (ball) compared to other arousing conditions. Our findings suggest that different unwanted behaviors in the kennel environment often associated with stress can be reduced using specific types of enrichment during a daily stressful event. Further, the results illustrate that enrichment items other than food might be more effective at decreasing certain undesirable behaviors. Overall, this study provides insight into how shelter workers might effectively use enrichment items during an unavoidable acute stressor. With many shelters keeping dogs longer, addressing events that might cause repeated stress in this population may indirectly help with adopting and lowering euthanasia rates due to unwanted behavior that develops due to repeated exposure to this necessary but acute stressor of morning cleaning.

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