Epstein, J., Dowling-Guyer, S., McCobb, E. et al. 2021. Addressing stress in dogs in shelters through a novel visual and auditory enrichment device. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 236, 105215.
Dogs experience both acute and chronic stress when living in animal shelters. Current best practices recommend a variety of techniques for reducing stress such as enhanced human interactions including play or training, novel feeding strategies, increased exercise/group play, and, when possible, group housing. Auditory stimulation in the form of bio-acoustically designed music has shown a stress-relieving effect in dogs experiencing chronic stress such as those living in a kennel. However, there is little research looking at the effect of visual stimulation on stress in shelter-living dogs. Using a two-group (treatment, control) experimental design, the current study examined the effect of auditory and visual content intended to reduce stress, measured by salivary cortisol and behavior, in shelter dogs. The content was delivered through an in-kennel pet videophone unit. Forty-seven dogs were enrolled at one shelter in the United States. While there were no significant differences in pre- and post-test salivary cortisol levels by experimental group (P > 0.05), dogs in the treatment group spent significantly less time in the back of the kennel (P = 0.046) than did dogs in the control group. In addition, two behaviors differed by experimental group at the P < 0.10 level: dogs in the treatment group spent more time grooming (P = 0.066) and less time walking (P = 0. 052) than did dogs in the control group. These results point to a promising area for future research as they suggest that, under certain conditions, auditory and visual enrichment delivered through an individual in-kennel device could be a useful adjunct to an existing enrichment and behavior protocol for shelter-housed dogs.