Hennessy, M. B., Willen, R. M., Schiml, P. A. 2020. Psychological stress, its reduction, and long-term consequences: What studies with laboratory animals might teach us about life in the dog shelter. Animals 10(11), 2061.
There is a long history of laboratory studies of the physiological and behavioral effects of stress, its reduction, and the later psychological and behavioral consequences of unmitigated stress responses. Many of the stressors employed in these studies approximate the experience of dogs confined in an animal shelter. We review how the laboratory literature has guided our own work in describing the reactions of dogs to shelter housing and in helping formulate means of reducing their stress responses. Consistent with the social buffering literature in other species, human interaction has emerged as a key ingredient in moderating glucocorticoid stress responses of shelter dogs. We discuss variables that appear critical for effective use of human interaction procedures in the shelter as well as potential neural mechanisms underlying the glucocorticoid-reducing effect. We also describe recent studies in which enrichment centered on human interaction has been found to reduce aggressive responses in a temperament test used to determine suitability for adoption. Finally, we suggest that a critical aspect of the laboratory stress literature that has been underappreciated in studying shelter dogs is evidence for long-term behavioral consequences—often mediated by glucocorticoids—that may not become apparent until well after initial stress exposure.