Pairing shelter dogs leads to less stress, faster adoption: study

Shelter dogs waiting for forever homes have a better chance of getting adopted faster, if they have a roommate in the shelter, according to new research by Virginia Tech.

Dogs housed alone in shelters “get more stressed while they’re there — they’re exposed to a lot of stressors,” said Erica Feuerbacher, associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ School of Animal Sciences. This includes noise, confined kennel spaces and limited access to social interactions.

According to her research, dogs housed together not only showed fewer stress behaviors, they also were adopted, on average, four days sooner than single-housed dogs.

Feuerbacher hopes the study will help encourage shelters to match dogs with suitable “roommates” as a way to reduce the dog’s stress and show them at their best to potential adopters.

“Folks have been a little hesitant to co-house dogs because there’s a risk of injury, if they do get into a fight,” she said. Another fear is the spread of disease.

“So we made sure they were good friends before, and we monitored them for the first few days,” said Feuerbacher.

In determining which dogs might be suitable to house together, researchers looked out for subtle signs of tension, which would typically occur before growling.

“We often see one dog shift to the other side of the yard to avoid the other dogs. Other signs of discomfort include stiffening, lip licking, yawning or ears back,” she said.

Feuerbacher said she believes this study used real-world situations in its determination that paired dogs in shelter fare better.

“I think before this, a lot of the research in this field had been done in laboratory dogs,” Feurbacher said. “While they’re similarly kenneled, they don’t have the same sort of rearing background — they haven’t come from a home, recently.”

Since potential adopters often want to make sure a dog would get along with people and other pets, “pair-housing dogs could really be useful,” Feuerbcher said, in promoting adoptions.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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