Pairing up shelter dogs with a roomie could lead to more adoptions

A new US study has found shelter dogs housed with a well-matched companion are less stressed and adopted more quickly than dogs housed alone.

“Despite being a social species, dogs are often housed alone in shelters to reduce disease transmission and possible injury from inter-dog conflict,” says Erica Feuerbacher, an associate professor of applied animal welfare and behavior at Virginia Polytechnic and State University, and senior author of the paper in PLoS ONE.

“But this social isolation can work against dogs’ behavioural health and adoptability. We wanted to examine whether pair housing could be a useful intervention for improving shelter dogs’ welfare.”

The study followed 61 dogs over the course of a week at the Humane Society of Western Montana.

Half of the dogs kennelled alone, while the other half were placed in cohousing with a companion they had been matched with through a brief introduction and compatibility test.

A photograph of 2 dogs on a dog bed. One is white with grey spots and the other is black and light brown. They ar cuddling
Mighty (in front) and Bo cuddle during the study. The pair proved to be loving companions and chose to sleep together – even though a separate bed was provided. Credit: Erica Feuerbacher.

Researchers recorded common stress behaviours – such as lip-licking, whining, and pulling back ears – and took daily samples of the dogs’ urinary cortisol and creatinine levels to measure biological indicators of stress.

“Dogs housed in shelters can face chronic levels of stress due to noise, confined kennel spaces, and limited access to social interaction,” says Feuerbacher.

“This can reduce their overall well-being, which might impact their adoptability.”

The dogs housed together showed fewer stress behaviours and were adopted 4 days sooner on average than single-housed dogs.

“Many potential adopters might already have a dog or would like to engage in social activities with their dog,” says Feuerbacher.

“Clearly exhibiting that a dog can successfully interact with other dogs might highlight those dogs as good matches – leading to more successful adoptions.”

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