By Marguerite Lamb, published on January 1, 2000 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015
The nearly 15 million dogs that pass through U.S. animal shelters
each year face myriad stressors that often cause antisocial behavior,
lessening the animals' chances of adoption. But a new program may help
dogs adjust smoothly to domestic life.
Researchers at the Montgomery County Animal Shelter in Ohio had
noted that levels of the stress hormone cortisol rose in newly arrived
dogs--leading to aggressive behavior--but that 20 minutes of slow petting
halted further increase. So a team including Wright State University
professor Michael Hennessy, Ph.D., and Fran Linden, director of Ohio's
Pet Behavior and Training Services, designed a home-like "living room"
for daily pettings. There, dogs are also taught to sit when visitors
approach their cage. Shelter pups may feel helpless, says Hennessy;
rewarding them when they sit gives them control and reduces the pacing
and barking with which they often greet potential owners. Finally, the
dogs learn to accept confinement in a pet crate, which gives them a
comforting space and is also a key behavior-modification tool for new
owners. By easing dogs' stress, the program calms their
behavior--hopefully earning them permanent homes.
PHOTO (COLOR): De-Stressing Dogs