Tag Archives: sleepover

Reducing stress in shelter dogs

Editor’s Note from DoggyMom:  This research endorses the approach used by Best Friends Animal Society at its Kanab, Utah sanctuary which allows behavior-tested dogs to go on ‘sleepovers’ with volunteers and guests.  I have hosted many sleepover dogs in my 3 visits to Kanab (and planning to do it again on my 4th visit).  It is heartening to know that science has backed up the practice – showing that it helps the dogs relieve stress from living in a the kennel environment


“Who’s a good dog? You are, aren’t you? Yes, you’re the best dog that ever was.”

But is he really a good dog? Can you really tell when you’re doing a meet-and-greet in the shelter? Is that how he’s going to be when you take him home? Are you getting Lassie or the Hound of the Baskervilles?

These were the sorts of questions that led to a study done by an Arizona State University researcher.

Lisa Gunter, a doctoral candidate studying behavioral neuroscience at the Canine Science Collaboratory in the Department of Psychology, began the project as a pilot study at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, the largest no-kill shelter in the country. About 1,600 dogs and cats live there, visited by about 30,000 people per year. It’s a popular vacation destination for pet lovers. People come and take weeklong “volunteer vacations.”

Gunter looked at the sleepover program offered by Best Friends, where visitors can take a dog back to their hotel room for the night.

The question she had was this: Is their behavior on the sleepover predictive?

Shelter dog research

Credit: Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Lisa Gunter plays with her 11-year-old rescued border collie Sonya outside the Psychology building on ASU’s Tempe campus. Gunter, a doctoral candidate studying behavioral neuroscience at the Canine Science Collaboratory in the Department of Psychology, found that shelter dogs benefit from sleepover programs like the one offered at at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, the USA’s largest no-kill animal shelter.

“We wanted to see how one night out of the shelter would impact the dogs,” Gunter said. “Is that what someone will see in their house? … That has been a challenge in sheltering.”

Gunter measured levels of cortisol, a diurnal hormone that is a measure of stress. She also took a behavioral snapshot of each dog, asking such questions as: What’s he like on a leash? What’s he like when he sees another dog? What’s he like when you come into his kennel?

“We saw one night out significantly reduced their cortisol,” Gunter said. “When they returned the next day, it was the same. We knew it at least dropped for one night.”

Lowered stress levels could allow the dog to behave more naturally, giving people a better view of the dog’s true personality.

The researchers took cortisol samples at three time points: the dog at the shelter, the dog at the sleepover and the dog back at the shelter.

“We’re trying to get more at the dog’s welfare, how they’re feeling on a larger timescale, not just 10 or 15 minutes,” Gunter said. “When we saw the cortisol had significantly reduced on just one overnight, that was pretty exciting. We didn’t imagine that just one night out would make a difference.”

Anecdotally, people who took a dog home for a sleepover reported that after the dog settled down, it would immediately go for a long sleep.

“Is sleep potentially a component to their welfare?” she said. “Getting good, uninterrupted sleep could benefit them as well. That could be one mechanism by which we’re seeing this reduction in cortisol. The dogs are getting a good night’s sleep. That’s something they can’t get at the shelter because they have a lot of noisy neighbors.”

Gunter has been carrying out the study in collaboration with a researcher at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. They were recently awarded a grant to carry out this study at four shelters across the U.S. Instead of a one-day baseline, they’ll be collecting a two-day sample.

Shelters are constantly looking for ways to get animals into homes.

“For a long time in sheltering it was thought dogs would be more adoptable if you just taught them to sit, if you just taught them to be well-behaved,” Gunter said. “That’s not necessarily the case. That’s not what our lab has found. There are behaviors related to companionship of people in a meet-and-greet setting when the person is getting to know the dog.”

They’ve found two behaviors that people respond to: when the dog lies down next to the person and whether the dog responded to an invitation to play.

“We’re a behavior and cognition lab, so we really try to understand what the animal is experiencing by looking at its behavior,” Gunter said. “Until the time we can have a conversation with them, for now we’re left with observing their behavior. We’re essentially detectives, trying to gather the information to have our best understanding of what the dog is experiencing. It’s the best we can do, without being dogs.”

Source:  Newswise

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The power of rest and relaxation

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary allows sleepovers with selected sanctuary dogs.  These dogs have been assessed for behaviours and deemed ready to go out to the public so they can experience environments that are more like a private home.

These experiences make the dogs more suitable for adoption and they give the dog a much-needed rest from the kennel environment.

Brigit, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier x Cattle Dog, is my sleepover dog as I study dog handling skills here.  She’s very sociable with people, but is reactive to other dogs which we are working on…

Today, I took Brigit for an enrichment visit to the Landing, an area of the sanctuary that is grassed and is in shade.  She had a wonderful time, followed by an hour-long walk in the evening when we met many people and successfully encouraged her to look at me rather than focusing on dogs that were passing on the other side of the street.

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Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

My temporary dogs

One of the great things about visiting and working at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is the range of dogs available for sleepovers.  Since I am on my final night of sleepovers, it is time to pay tribute to all four of my sleepover dogs…

Timothy, a one-year oldAmerican Staffordshire Terrier.  Beautiful boy with good manners.  I'm sorry we fed you so many treats in training class that we caused your diarrhea!

Timothy, a one-year old American Stafordshire Terrier. Beautiful boy with good manners. I’m sorry we fed you so many treats in training class that we caused your diarrhea!  Timothy’s underbite makes this wee boy adorable.

Chester, a Boxer cross (I think Boxer/Mastiff cross because of his wrinkles and large head size), age 7.  Chester is very bright and we practiced 'sit' during his stay.  A snuggly boy who snores!

Chester, a Boxer cross (I think Boxer/Mastiff cross because of his wrinkles and large head size), age 7. Chester is very bright and we practiced ‘sit’ during his stay. A snuggly boy who snores, I took Chester because he hadn’t been on a sleepover or outing for almost 2 months.

Madison, a young pit mix.  A fairly new arrival at Best Friends, she's not even on the website yet.  Really intelligent, and happily slept the night through.  Only drawback - she's a covers hog who enjoys the middle of the bed.

Madison, a young pit mix. A fairly new arrival at Best Friends, she’s not even on the website yet. Really intelligent, and happily slept the night through. Only drawback – she’s a covers hog who enjoys the middle of the bed.

Clover, another fairly new arrival and her photo isn't on the website yet.  A cattle dog mix, this young girl has good manners on leash and loves to disembowel toys.  A rubber chicken and a small squeaky sheep were victims during our evening together.

Clover, another fairly new arrival from Texas and her photo isn’t on the website yet. A cattle dog mix, this young girl has good manners on leash and loves to disembowel toys. A rubber chicken and a small squeaky sheep were victims during our evening together.  She also adores tummy rubs.

These dogs and many others can be viewed through the Best Friends website and so if you are thinking about adoption, this website is well worth a look.