Dogs in animal shelters can be helped to behave better by wafting special scents throughout their kennels and corridors, animal behaviour experts from the University of Edinburgh have found. The research may lead to more dogs being rehomed after they have been placed in shelters for a variety of reasons including excessive barking and other bad behaviour.
Elaine Todd and Dr Natalie Waran of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University studied a group of dogs in an animal shelter where dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) diffusers were plugged into electric sockets at the top of kennel doors at an SSPCA Animal Welfare Centre in Scotland. These pheromones —special chemical odours containing messages familiar to dogs— had the effect of reducing the frequency and noise levels of barking amongst the animals. The dogs also showed a significant increase in interest towards visitors as seen in tests when an unfamiliar person knelt in front of the dogs’ kennel, with their arm extended and the palm facing up.
Ms Todd studied 37 dogs exposed to DAP for seven days. All the dogs were of varying age, gender, breed and life history. Dogs that were not exposed to DAP did not show the same changes in their behaviour in the kennel.
She said: “DAP has been of interest to researchers as a way to manage some common behavioural problems in dogs, associated with fear and stress, such as excessive barking and destructiveness when left alone in the house. The pheromones have been previously shown to be of use in situations of acute stress for dogs, in particular on fireworks night.
“Dogs with behaviour problems are frequently given up to shelters as a last resort when the owner can no longer cope. The behaviour of a dog will often be negatively affected when the animal is housed in a shelter —even if placed in well run kennels like those of the SSPCA—due to the stress of noise, change in routine, lack of visual contact with other dogs and an unpredictable environment. This study suggest that DAP is a useful palliative tool for reducing the severity and occurrence of some behaviour associated with canine stress and fear. Further research is needed to investigate the full potential value of DAP as part of a long term strategy for managing problem behaviour.”
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