A team of researchers has found that shelter dogs who tend to rest well during the day show signs of increased welfare. By analyzing rest patterns, animal shelters can easily identify the dogs who need the most help. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal PLOS One.
Sleep patterns and rest behaviors have been used as part of general health and welfare analyses in humans. There haven’t been any similar studies conducted with nonhumans, however, even though measures of welfare have the potential to help shelter and zoo animals. In the United States, four million dogs are surrendered to shelters each year. With so many animals, it becomes critical to develop easy ways to find the dogs who need extra help adjusting. Increasing overall animal welfare reduces behavioral problems and makes dogs easier to adopt out to new homes.
Researchers from the University of Lincoln and the University of Liverpool studied 15 dogs at a UK animal shelter. They recorded the amount of time the dogs spent sleeping or resting as well as behaviors that are indicative of stress, such as pacing and constant panting. They also interviewed shelter staff to find out which dogs had been noted as “relaxed”.
The research team found that dogs who spent more time resting during the day were also less likely to show signs of stress. Sleeping patterns at night had no effect on general welfare, only daytime resting behaviors had an impact. The team believes that the ability to rest and relax during the day, when the shelter is busy and loud, implies that the dog is well-adjusted. Dogs who are unable to rest may need extra attention.
The findings provide evidence for a connection between resting behaviors and general welfare in animal shelter environments. Dogs who are unable to rest during the day tend to show signs of stress and may need help adjusting. The team hopes that their results will help shelter workers identify dogs who need more assistance.
Owczarczak-Garstecka SC, Burman OHP. Can Sleep and Resting Behaviours Be Used as Indicators of Welfare in Shelter Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)? PLOS One (2016).