Human interaction moderates plasma cortisol and behavioral responses of dogs to shelter housing

Physiol Behav. 2013 Jan 17;109:75-9. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2012.12.002. Epub 2012 Dec 9.


Housing in an animal shelter is a stressful experience for dogs. This study examined the effects of different forms of human interaction on concentrations of circulating cortisol and stress-related behaviors of dogs within 40 h of admittance to a county animal shelter. Blood samples were collected before and after 30-min sessions in a secluded area in which dogs received one of three forms of human interaction: exposure to a passive human, petting, or play. Controls were either exposed to the secluded area alone, or remained in the general housing area. There was a substantial and near uniform reduction in plasma cortisol concentrations from pretest to post-test in all three conditions receiving human interaction, but not in control conditions. Human interaction also reduced behavioral signs of excitation/social solicitation (vocalizing) and fear (panting). Finally, pretest cortisol levels were found to predict levels of panting and another fear-related behavior (tongue protrusions) that dogs exhibited during subsequent testing. The findings suggest practical means of reducing stress, and potentially of improving the welfare, of dogs in shelters.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animal Welfare
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dogs
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Female
  • Housing
  • Human-Animal Bond*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Male
  • Sex Factors
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Stress, Psychological / blood*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology


  • Hydrocortisone