SPARCS 2015:  “Reducing Stress of Dogs in Shelters”  with Michael Hennessy, PhD

SPARCS 2015: “Reducing Stress of Dogs in Shelters” with Michael Hennessy, PhD


What Stresses Us?

MichaelTypes of Stressors

Psychological stressors

  • Job interview
  • Traffic
  • Death in family
  • Disease diagnosis

Physical stressors

  • Broken leg
  • Starvation

Psychological stressors most highly activate the HPA system.

Stress Responses

  • Sympathetic (adrenaline)
  • Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system
  • Brain activity
  • Behavior

Stressors elevate circulating levels of HPA

Cortisol level is (the best?) measure of stress:

  • BUT, it is not a perfect measure
  • Not all stressors clearly elevate cortisol
  • Cortisol can increase without stress
  • System can become dysregulated with prolonged exposure

Cortisol is a good measure of the effect of relatively short-term psychological stressors, when other factors affecting HPA activity are controlled.

Experimental Conditions

Handling control “Base”

    • Alone home
    • Alone novel
    • Dog novel
    • Person novel
    • Threat

Dogs entering animal shelters are confronted with an array of psychological stressors (e.g., novelty, uncertainty, separation from attachment figures). On entering the shelter, cortisol is higher on Day 1 than in pets at home.

Why should high cortisol levels matter?

  • Welfare of dogs
  • Long-term effects on behavior
  • Adoptability
  • Potential health effects

White blood cells are elevated on 1st day in shelter and continue to rise.

Can human interaction reduce the cortisol response?

  • Human interaction is a key factor for improving the welfare of dogs in shelters.
  • Human-dog interaction can counteract stress.
  • Human interaction prevents enhanced cortisol elevation.

Specific human interaction in the shelter reduces cortisol response to:

  • additional stressor (venipuncture)
  • additional stressor at a later time (novelty)

Presence of a human, regardless whether they ignore, pet or play with the dog, stress response is reduced for the shelter dogs. Suppressed immune systems from high CORT levels of dogs in shelters means there is a potential illness risk throughout entire shelter.

Shelter stresses:

  • uncertainty
  • loss of control
  • social separation
  • novelty
  • threat

CORT levels differ depending on the kind of life the dog has and medical conditions.

Final Notes

Key ingredient: human interaction away from the main kennel area significantly reduces stress.

Relinquished dogs didn’t find human petting as reassuring (per cortisol tests) as strays.

Circulating levels of the primary stress hormone, cortisol, are about three times higher than observed in pet dogs sampled in their owner’s homes.

As little as 15 minutes of interaction between humans and dogs can reduce the circulating cortisol response.

Multiple sessions continued to produce effects, and dogs entering the shelter as strays appeared more susceptible to stress than dogs released by their owners.

SPARCS 2015: What the New Science of Human-Animal Interactions Reveals About Our Relationships With Dogs with Hal Herzog, PhD

SPARCS 2015: What the New Science of Human-Animal Interactions Reveals About Our Relationships With Dogs with Hal Herzog, PhD

Review of Anthrozoology with Hal Herzog.

Anthrozoology (also known as human–non-human-animal studies, or HAS) is the study of interaction between humans and other animals.

The types of questions Anthrozoology asks are:
Why do humans keep pets?
Are there gender differences in how we think about pets?
What are the physiological effects on humans from interacting with animals?

“90% of owners think of pets as family members.”

“40% of married women say they get more emotional satisfaction from their dog than from significant other.”

40% of owners would save their dog over a stranger if they had to choose between the two.” Read more about the Trolley Problem.

The Humanization of Pets

The “humanization of pets” includes dressing pets up in costumes, throwing them birthday parties and weddings, as well as breeding or selecting for childlike features.

“Humanization” comes with moral consequences.

“Humanization” shifts dog breeds from having a function to being fashionable.

Different cultures around the world view animals differently. There is a cultural difference between “having a dog” and “having a pet.” “Having a pet,” did not come as a cultural shift in the United States until after WWII.

Dog Popularity

“Having a purebred dog,” peaked in 1987 and has been in decline ever since. This shift can be linked to the cultural view that “having a rescue dog,” makes people “good,” and “moral.”

There are more than 400 breeds of dogs worldwide, but most breeds are less than 200 years old.

What decides one breed becomes popular over another is based on chance. Those breeds that gain popularity very quickly also decline very quickly. Having a specific breed becomes fashionable.

Owner reported behavior issues have no impact on whether a dog remains popular or declines.

Dogs appearing in movies increase in popularity based on first week ticket sales, with AKC registrations for that breed peaking 10 years after the opening weekend. On average a breed being in a hit movie results in 800,000 additional registrations than there were prior to the movie’s release.

The Pet Industrial Complex

There is a cultural shift with the Pet Industrial Complex, which promotes healthier living through pet ownership, morality through pet ownership, and creates dividing lines between “good” people and “bad” people.

There is no evidence that pet owners live longer, no matter what news organizations promote.

The promotion of morality of what makes someone a good person is how they treat their pets. Even if they are bad people who treat animals well, they are viewed as having some morality.

The Takeaway
When we study our relationships with animals what we really do is learn about ourselves.

SPARCS 2015: The Laws of Connection with Peter Killeen, PhD

SPARCS 2015: The Laws of Connection with Peter Killeen, PhD

A Review Of The Laws of Connection

The “glue” for each Law of Connection, ie, what holds the behavior together.

David Hume: A Treatise of Human Nature   – Contiguity, Similarity, Causality
Ivan Pavlov: Classical Conditioning   Temporal contiguity
Edward Thorndike: Law of effect    Satisfaction
B.F. Skinner: The Behavior of Organisms    Reinforcement
R.J. Herrnstein: The matching law    Relative Reinforcement
David Premack: Premack’s principle   Transition to a more probable response

Peter Killeen, PhD Presentation Quotes.

On the matching law: “The greater the satisfaction, the greater the strengthening. The greater the dissatisfaction, the greater the decreasing.”

On Premack’s principle: “Reinforcers are responses, not stimuli.”
On the role of affect: “No matter how we think about stimuli and their settings, we must also know how to feel about them. Affect tells us which action modes to engage.”

On the role of emotions: “Emotions tell us what to do.”

Read more on the role of affect.

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