The shelter environment can be very stressful for dogs, often being noisy, unpredictable, and unfamiliar. This in combination with relative isolation from humans and other dogs means that dogs who do live in shelters often suffer from lower welfare and greater levels of stress than dogs in foster or permanent homes. This increased stress level can affect their behaviour which can, in turn, seriously affect how adoptable they appear to potential adopters. Focus should therefore be put on improving the conditions dogs live in during their time in a shelter and keeping stress to a minimum.
Positive human-dog interactions such as petting, walking and training have been found to effectively reduce stress in shelter dogs. The issue is that shelters are often extremely busy environments and there is usually a shortage of time and staff preventing the ideal level of attention and interaction from being given to each individual dog. Since human company is not always available as a tool to ease the level of stress shelter dogs, there is a need for practical enrichment methods that are both effective in reducing stress-related behaviours and easily implemented in the shelter environment
One such method is auditory enrichment. Music has been found to influence the behaviour of dogs, with classical music seeming to have the greatest potential out of several different music genres in reducing environmental stress in dogs. Audiobooks are a relatively novel form of auditory enrichment which could hold great potential for use as stress-reducing enrichment for dogs and could serve as a substitute for actual human company when it is unavailable such as it is in shelters. Few studies thus far have investigated the potential of audiobooks as auditory enrichment to affect behaviour of shelter dogs, but those that have found that exposure to audiobooks had a positive effect on the behaviour of dogs in shelters, to an even greater extent than that of classical music. A single period of exposure to audiobook for two hours resulted in dogs spending more time resting and less time engaging in vigilant behaviours associated with stress such as sitting and standing. Despite this promising finding, little is known about the longer-term effects of audiobook exposure on behaviour, and no studies to date have looked at how it effects the behaviour of dogs on leashes in terms of explorative behaviour.
This study will begin to address some of these gaps in knowledge when it comes to the role that audiobooks could play in reducing stress and generally improving behaviour in shelter dogs.
In this study I expose dogs to audiobooks for several hours over several days rather than just once, in order to investigate longer term effects on behaviour. Specifically, the aim of this study is to find out whether daily audiobook exposure over four days has an effect on the following aspects of their behaviour:
- Use of space in their kennel
- Response to a novel object while out for a walk