Sleepovers and short-term foster care can reduce stress in shelter dogs, a recent study suggested.
"We are trying to improve the lives of shelter dogs by helping them finding loving homes. We wanted to understand what effect sleepovers had on dogs' behaviour and if being away from the shelter environment, even temporarily, potentially reduced the stress they experience," said Clive Wynne, lead researcher of 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, another researcher.
Dogs who live in homes sleep approximately 14 hours each day, while dogs in shelters only sleep around 11 hours each day.
Findings of the study were published in the Journal of PeerJ.
"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.
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