Sleepovers reduce stress in shelter dogs

April 01, 2019

Of the estimated more than 4 million dogs that end up in animal shelters each year, about half a million are euthanized. To increase the number of shelter dogs that are adopted, Arizona State University's Canine Science Collaboratory studies what happens in animal shelters and how it affects dogs.

The research team just finished looking at how sleepovers, or short-term foster care, impact the stress response and rest patterns of shelter dogs. The study, published in PeerJ on March 27, was conducted in collaboration with shelters in Arizona, Utah, Texas, Montana and Georgia.

"We are trying to improve the lives of shelter dogs by helping them finding loving homes," said Clive Wynne, professor of psychology and head of the Canine Science Collaboratory.

A weekend to the workweek

The idea to study sleepovers came after a trip to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. The sanctuary has a long-standing sleepover program in which volunteers take dogs home overnight. The ASU research team and their collaborator Erica Feuerbacher of Virginia Tech decided to test if such short-term foster care experiences were beneficial to shelter dogs.

"We wanted to understand what effect sleepovers had on dogs' behavior and if being away from the shelter environment, even temporarily, potentially reduced the stress they experience," said Lisa Gunter, Maddie's Fund Research Fellow in the ASU psychology department and first author on the study.

The team tracked the dogs' stress by measuring the stress hormone cortisol before, during and after sleepovers. Even though the five participating shelters were very different - some care for 600 dogs a year and others more than 6,000 - the cortisol levels for all the dogs decreased during a sleepover. When the dogs returned to the shelter, their cortisol levels were the same as before. Gunter said the sleepovers were like a weekend away from work: they provided a short break from the stress of living in a shelter.

"It was an open question if it would be stressful for dogs to come back to the shelter after being away for a weekend but because of this study, we know a sleepover is a very welcome break," said Debbie McKnight, vice president of field and animal welfare at the Arizona Humane Society (AHS). AHS was one of the five shelters that participated in the study. "The sleepovers let us find out so much about how a dog behaves in a home, and that knowledge helps us match them to their forever home."

AHS has continued using sleepovers because they benefit the dogs and are an easy way to introduce new volunteers to fostering.

Noisy neighbors

Dogs who live in homes sleep approximately 14 hours each day, while dogs in shelters only sleep just under 11 hours each day.

"Trying to sleep in a shelter is like trying to sleep with noisy neighbors," Gunter said. "You can't get in a good nap during the day."

To understand the impact of short-term foster care on rest patterns of shelter dogs, the research team outfitted dogs from the shelters in Arizona, Montana, Georgia and Texas with an activity-tracking collar. The longest rest period was during the sleepover, but even after returning to the shelter, the dogs rested longer than before.

Because sleepovers reduced dogs' cortisol levels and increased their time at rest, Gunter said shelters that do not currently have short-term foster programs should give sleepovers a try. Potential adopters often use information from foster volunteers when making decisions about whether to bring a dog home.

But, sleepovers are just one piece of the puzzle to improving the lives of shelter dogs. The Canine Science Collaboratory is also studying how to keep dogs out of shelters and to transform the experience once they are there. The team is currently studying other programs that allow dogs out of shelters, like field trips and long-term foster care. With a grant from Maddie's Fund, they are enrolling 100 animal shelters across the country in a study to understand how foster care impacts the dogs in shelters, organizations that implement foster programs and the staff and volunteers who make them possible.
Rachel Gilchrist, ASU psychology graduate student in the Canine Science Collaboratory, and Feuerbacher, assistant professor of animal and poultry science at Virginia Tech, also contributed to the study. The work was funded by Maddie's Fund.

Arizona State University

Related Stress Articles from Brightsurf:

Stress-free gel
Researchers at The University of Tokyo studied a new mechanism of gelation using colloidal particles.

Early life stress is associated with youth-onset depression for some types of stress but not others
Examining the association between eight different types of early life stress (ELS) and youth-onset depression, a study in JAACAP, published by Elsevier, reports that individuals exposed to ELS were more likely to develop a major depressive disorder (MDD) in childhood or adolescence than individuals who had not been exposed to ELS.

Red light for stress
Researchers from the Institute of Industrial Science at The University of Tokyo have created a biphasic luminescent material that changes color when exposed to mechanical stress.

How do our cells respond to stress?
Molecular biologists reverse-engineer a complex cellular structure that is associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS

How stress remodels the brain
Stress restructures the brain by halting the production of crucial ion channel proteins, according to research in mice recently published in JNeurosci.

Why stress doesn't always cause depression
Rats susceptible to anhedonia, a core symptom of depression, possess more serotonin neurons after being exposed to chronic stress, but the effect can be reversed through amygdala activation, according to new research in JNeurosci.

How plants handle stress
Plants get stressed too. Drought or too much salt disrupt their physiology.

Stress in the powerhouse of the cell
University of Freiburg researchers discover a new principle -- how cells protect themselves from mitochondrial defects.

Measuring stress around cells
Tissues and organs in the human body are shaped through forces generated by cells, that push and pull, to ''sculpt'' biological structures.

Cellular stress at the movies
For the first time, biological imaging experts have used a custom fluorescence microscope and a novel antibody tagging tool to watch living cells undergoing stress.

Read More: Stress News and Stress Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to