Flink, K., Castonguay, S. 2014. From the kennel to the couch: The transition of dogs from research to home. American Association for Laboratory Animal Science [AALAS] Meeting Official Program, 540 (Abstract #PS57).
Adoption of research dogs to private homes is increasingly common; however, the transition can be stressful. Our teaching dog program prepares former laboratory dogs for adoption by introducing challenges experienced in a home setting. All dogs were donated from other research institutions and were purpose-bred for research from Class A vendors. An integral part of the teaching dog program is designed to enable a hands-on experience for veterinary students to learn important clinical skills while preparing the dogs for successful adoption to a home. Although the dogs generally have gentle dispositions and are accustomed to handling because of their previous research experience, they are unfamiliar with leash walking, house-training, and the use of stairs. Our program includes daily outside group play among the dogs for socialization, leash walking by students and staff, and frequent handling by our animal care staff. First year veterinary students are required to work with the dogs 3 to 5 d/wk as part of the Human Animal Relationships course. The students leash walk the dogs and train them in basic commands such as sit, stay, and lie down. While on walks, the dogs are encouraged to eliminate on leash, which is found to be one of the most difficult challenges in the transition to an adoption home. In an effort to evaluate the success of adoption, we created a survey that was sent out to more than 20 owners of adopted teaching dogs. In the survey, 56% of owners said it took less than 2 mo to house-train their adopted dog while 25% said they are still not fully house trained. We believe that the teaching dog program has greatly assisted the new owners with house-training. We will continue to gather feedback from owners and will modify the program to improve the adoption process for future dogs. Our adoption program has been around for more than 15 y and more than 80 teaching dogs have been successfully placed in forever homes.