Effect of temperament on stress response of stray adult dogs in a shelter environment.

C. L. Coppola, T. Grandin, and R. M. Enns, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO USA.

Journal of Animal Science, Vol. 81, p. 69 (Supl. 1) (Abstract)

Due to a dog's inherent social nature and a keen sense of its surroundings they are vulnerable to changes in the environment. The main stressors a domestic dog encounters in a shelter are isolation, exposure to constant noise and novel, irritating stimuli. The objective of this study was to examine the relationship between seven temperament traits of stray adult dogs and their stress response to the shelter environment as measured by salivary cortisol after 9 days in the shelter. Dogs (n = 26) included in the study were healthy, non-pregnant, potential adoption candidates not claimed by their owner. Animals that were deemed dangerous and/or not suitable for adoption were excluded from the study. The primary temperament traits evaluated were: sociability (interaction with people and other dogs) and reactivity (response to sudden novel stimuli). The secondary temperament traits evaluated were: independence, confidence, calmness, playfulness and lack of fear. All traits were ascertained through the results and interpretation of an adoptability assessment conducted on the 2nd day of housing in the shelter. A Mixed Model was used to evaluate the effect of temperament on cortisol level on day 9. The model included the fixed effects of each temperament level and type (as classified by AKC breed types), as well as the random effect of individual. Sociability, reactivity, confidence, calmness and lack of fear affected cortisol levels on day 9 (P < 0.05). As sociability and reactivity levels increased in an individual animal, cortisol level increased by 0.2342 0.083 and 0.2313 0.075 ug/dl, respectively. Isolation or lack of socialization and reaction to the shelter environment are important key factors in predicting the stress response of an animal while housed in a shelter environment. Identification of aninials that may have an elevated stress response may prove to be beneficial from both a welfare and financial standpoint by decreasing overall stress response and ultimately improving the physical and mental health of the animal.

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