Pairing Shelter Dogs Reduces Stress and Helps Them Get Adopted Faster

Nevena Nacic
by Nevena Nacic

Dogs are social creatures who rely on companionship, especially in stressful situations. Having a companion doesn’t only diminish loneliness, it can also have a huge impact on dogs’ future, especially those waiting for a furever home.

A new study, led by Erica Feuerbacher, associate professor in the Colledge of Agriculture Life Sciences’ School of Animal Sciences found that living with a roommate lowers stress levels in shelter dogs and helps them get adopted more quickly.

According to ASPCA, approximately 3.1 million dogs enter shelters nationwide each year. This new study may offer a potential solution for overcrowded animal shelters that are overwhelmed by the surge in unwanted pets and longer waits for dogs needing adoption. 

“Despite being a social species, dogs are often housed alone in shelters to reduce disease transmission and possible injury from inter-dog conflict. But this social isolation can work against dogs’ behavioral health and adaptability,” said Feuerbacher. “We wanted to examine whether pair housing could be a useful intervention for improving shelter dogs’ welfare.”

This groundbreaking study was published in the journal PLOS One. It is the first study to look into how U.S.-based shelter dogs cope when housed alone versus when they are living with a canine companion. 

This isn’t the first study that researched the benefits of co-housing dogs, but previous studies focused on laboratory beagles and veterinary school dogs. These dogs were housed in kennels long-term, usually for more than six months, for research and teaching purposes. On the other hand, shelter dogs spend an average of 35 days waiting to be adopted, and are, in most cases, used to social interactions prior to entering the shelter. 

For seven days, researchers studied 61 dogs at the Humane Society of Western Montana. Researchers placed half the dogs in co-housing with roommates who were picked through a compatibility test and brief introduction. The other half of the group was housed alone.

Throughout the week, scientists observed the dogs and recorded common stress behaviors, including lip licking, pulling back their ears, and whining. They also took daily samples of dogs’ urine to measure cortisol and creatinine, which are biological markers of stress. 

Dogs housed in shelters can face chronic levels of stress due to noise, confined kennel spaces, and limited access to social interaction,” said Feuerbacher adding that this can reduce a dog’s well-being, which may affect a dog’s adoptability. 

Scientists were happy to discover that dogs housed together showed fewer stress behaviors. Not only that, data showed that these pooches were adopted four days sooner than single-housed dogs. 

These results show that pairing shelter dogs may be a way for shelters and rescues to improve the quality of dogs’ lives, increase their chances of getting adopted, and shorten their stay in the shelter. 

Feuerbacher hopes that these findings will encourage shelters to pair dogs with suitable roommates to reduce dogs’ stress and showcase them at their best to potential adopters. 

“Many potential adopters might already have a dog or would like to engage in social activities with their dog,” Feuerbacher said. “Clearly exhibiting that a dog can successfully interact with other dogs might highlight those dogs as good matches - leading to more successful adoptions.” 

Dogs who get to have company while they are at the shelter aren’t just happier, they also get to behave more naturally and let their true personality shine through. Co-housing dogs is a win-win situation for everyone and an easy way for shelters to get more dogs adopted into loving homes. 

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Nevena Nacic
Nevena Nacic

Nevena is a freelance writer and a proud mom of Teo, a 17-year-old poodle, and Bob, a rescued grey tabby cat. Since childhood, she had a habit of picking up strays and bringing them home (luckily, her parents didn't know how to say NO). When she's not writing for her fellow pet parents, Nevena can be found watching Teo sleep. To her defense, that's not as creepy as it sounds!

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