Foster Sleepovers On Nights And Weekends Reduce Shelter Dogs’ Stress

(Picture Credit: Jaromir Chalabala / EyeEm/Getty Images)

There are many things that bring stress upon our lives. Most of that stress comes during the weekday when we’re working and juggling multiple responsibilities. Lucky for us, we can relieve that tension when we come home and get a good night’s sleep. But the same can’t be said for many dogs who live in shelters.

For these dogs, life in a shelter makes for a constant stressful environment. The average amount of sleep dogs should get during the day is twelve to 14 hours. But in most shelters, dogs average less than eleven hours of sleep a day. This is due in large part to the noise and chaos that happens at shelters.

Dogs tend to be social animals who prefer to be around others, whether those others are dogs, human beings, or other pets. Unfortunately, they spend much of their time alone in many shelters. This also raises their stress levels and can lead to behavioral issues.

Some shelters are trying to find ways to reduce the stress that dogs can carry while in their care. New research that studied stress levels of shelter dogs when they have sleepovers at foster homes might help provide an answer for these often-overcrowded facilities and the animals they look after.

How Did This Study Come About?

The inspiration for this research came from looking at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. This shelter had an established program in which volunteers took dogs from the shelter and let them stay at their homes over night or for a weekend.

Arizona State University’s Canine Science Collaboratory‘s research team decided to see if this short-term foster care had any advantageous effect on dogs.

Lisa Gunter, part of the psychology department of ASU, said, “We wanted to understand what effect sleepovers had on dogs’ behavior and if being away from the shelter environment, even temporarily, potentially reduced stress they experience.”

The way the ASU team tracked the dogs’ stress levels was by measuring their stress hormone cortisol levels. “To measure the dogs’ cortisol levels in the pilot study, we collected urine from the dogs the morning before the sleepover, the morning before being returned, and the next morning back at the shelter,” said Gunter.

For the behavioral component, we used questions from James Serpell’s C-BARQ questionnaire, a validated dog research questionnaire that asks owners to describe the dog’s behavior in variety of everyday situations. We collected these questionnaires from shelter staff, the foster home, and the new adopters.

The ASU team found through studies at five participating shelters that virtually all dogs’ cortisol levels decreased during a sleepover. Lisa Gunter stated that these sleepovers provided a break from the stress from living in a shelter, almost like a weekend away from work.

But what happens once they return from their weekend getaway? Gunter continued, “We found their cortisol levels increased similar to what they were before they left but did not increase [beyond that]. So, while the sleepover was beneficial, the reduction in stress did not sustain long upon return.”

This Study Is Only The Beginning

Dog Stress 2

(Picture Credit: Paul Viant/Getty Images)

Due to these beneficial findings, Gunter suggests that shelters who do not have short-term foster programs should give sleepovers a try, as it helps dogs stress levels significantly. Also, potential pet parents looking to adopt usually take into account the information given from foster volunteers.

Because of the benefits of this study, the Canine Science Collaboratory is also searching for ways to keep dogs out of shelters and to transform their experience if they are there.

Tracking different studies like dog field trips or long-term foster care are things they are trying to implement to make dogs’ time at shelters less stressful until they get adopted into loving forever homes.

What do you think of sleepovers reducing stress in dogs? Would you volunteer for short-term foster care for dogs? Let us know in the comments below!

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