Posted Date: September 3, 2015
A research study of shelter dogs found a good walk with your dog can go a long way toward reducing stress.
By Claudia Bensimoun
We've all wondered about the different
ways one may be able to reduce stress in our dogs, especially
before competitions. Chances are if you're
feeling stressed, your dog is too! Going for a quick walk can help reduce stress for both competitor and dog alike, improving
the chances for a good run.
According to a research paper published in the journal Physiology &
Behavior, Dr. Simona Cafazzo and colleagues at the Department of Neuroscience at
the University of Parma did the following:
- Assessed the welfare of dogs in 8
shelters in the Lazio Region of Italy.
- Dr. Cafazzo measured oxidative stress and behavioural indicators.
- The variable that made the most difference was for dogs to leave their shelter
kennels and be taken on walks regularly.
- The walked dogs yielded a
higher antioxidant capacity with less anxious behavior and displayed much more
sociable behavior towards other dogs and people.
The researchers wanted to
study the long-term impact of the no-kill law passed in Italy in
1991. Eight out of forty-seven shelters were studied between
2004 and 2008. After the no-kill law was implemented, there was a huge
over-population of shelter dogs. There were also more dog welfare problems and
higher management shelter costs. Dr. Cafazzo and colleagues wanted
to see how they could improve the lives of dogs with long-term stays at shelters.
According to the study, the
differences in the physiological status of oxidative stress were found to be
linked to canine behavioral responses. These behavioral responses included
agitation, increased anxiety and other stereotyped canine behavior.
- Ninety-seven dogs
- Healthy mixed breeds
- Ages between 2 and 7
- Living at the shelter for at least
2 to 3 years.
- The researchers took blood samples from each shelter dog in the study.
The researchers looked at the following:
- The concentration of the stress related hormone cortisol - this
measures short-term stress.
- The concentration of white blood cells - this measures long-term
of Stress on Dogs
According to the study, chronic stress in dogs can cause health
problems, such as tissue damage and an increase in their white blood
count. The blood analysis done by Dr. Cafazzo and
colleagues was helpful in demonstrating if there were long-term stressors and
how the body reacted to this.
the Study Done?
Dr. Cafazzo and her colleagues observed the dogs for 5 hours
each. The dogs that were videotaped and their
behaviors were scored accordingly. The researchers were looking for behavior that indicated stress. These behaviors
included shaking, muzzle licking, pacing, panting, biting their shelter cages and growling. They also watched out for behaviors that demonstrated low levels
of stress like licking, tail wagging and non-aggressiveness with other dogs and
of the Research
Although the researchers looked at the environmental conditions
and temperament of the shelter dogs to see what conditions were directly linked
to lower stress levels. Dr. Cafazzo and colleagues found that certain factors
had no direct affect on lowering stress levels such as:
- Whether the dog was a male or female.
- The size of the kennel at the shelter.
- Whether the dogs stayed in their kennels alone or together with
- Whether the dog was neutered or spayed.
The researchers discovered there was one thing that really
decreased stress levels, and that was being walked consistently by a volunteer
at the shelter. Dogs that were walked often demonstrated less unwanted
behaviors. They were not as anxious or stressed, and enjoyed being around other
dogs and people.
The research results were surprising since Dr. Cafazzo examined
many variables. The researchers found that, Dogs that enjoyed the regular walk
had a higher total antioxidant capacity, and performed a lower frequency of
displacing activities and stereotyped behaviour. Moreover, oxidative stress
parameters seem to be indicators well matched with behavioral indicators of
stress. Thus, for the first time, markers of oxidative status are utilized for
the welfare evaluation in the domestic dog. Furthermore, the results of this
paper give some suggestion about how small steps can help to improve shelters
and, furthermore, this paper intends to solicit the debate on the no-kill
policy. (Cafazzo S., Maragliano, L.,
Bonanni, R., et al. 2014. Behavioural and physiological indicators of shelter dogs' welfare: Reflections on the
no-kill policy on free-ranging dogs in Italy revisited on the basis of
15 years of implementation. Physiology & Behavior. 133(June 22):
Claudia Bensimoun is a
freelance writer in West Palm Beach.
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