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How can we make shelter dogs more comfortable before finding their forever homes?

While many dogs are already companion animals in loving homes, others are waiting patiently in shelters to find their forever homes. This time in shelters can be extremely distressing to some dogs due to lack of control, stressors such as noise and spatial restriction, and inadequate environmental enrichment. When environmental enrichment is added to a captive animal’s life, the goal is to encourage behaviors typical to the species and decrease the frequency of abnormal behaviors. A cost-effective and easy way to encourage more species-typical behaviors is to add olfactory stimulation to enclosures – a strategy shown to be effective previously with big cats and chimpanzees in captivity!


Researchers from the University Centre Hartpury in the United Kingdom sought to determine how effective olfactory stimulation in shelters could be for the welfare of dogs using four different scents: vanilla, coconut, ginger, and valerian. The researchers exposed 15 shelter dogs to each condition through scented cloths (as well as controls) for 2 hours a day for 3 days each, with 2-days in between each scent condition where there were no olfactory stimuli. By recording dog behaviors every 10-minutes throughout each scent condition, researchers were able to determine that all 4 scent conditions resulted in significantly less movement and vocalizations attributed to stress when compared to controls. Additionally, coconut and ginger were found to also increase sleeping behaviors. Adding scented cloths to enclosures in shelters could be a simple and cost-efficient way to help reduce behaviors associated with stress in the dogs who live there.


Can this be useful for your dog at home, too? The answer is: most likely, yes! If your dog seems to demonstrate behaviors such as barking or pacing while you are away, providing olfactory stimulation in the form of a scented cloth or object might be beneficial. If you want to help your pup stay calm and maybe get some sleep, try coconut or ginger first!


Source: Binks, J., Taylor, S., Wills, A., Montrose, V. T. (2018). The behavioural effects of olfactory stimulations on dogs at a rescue shelter. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 202, 69-76.

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