Objective: To determine the effect of food-toy enrichment combined with cage-behavior training on desirable behaviors in shelter dogs and adoption rates.
Design: Randomized controlled clinical trial.
Animals: 107 dogs.
Procedures: Dogs placed up for adoption in a municipal shelter were randomly assigned to either an experimental group (n = 48) or control group (59). Experimental group subjects were exposed to an environmental enrichment and training protocol consisting of twice-daily cage-behavior training and daily provision of a food-filled toy. Cage-behavior training included operant conditioning via positive reinforcement of desirable behaviors, including approaching the front of the cage, sitting or lying, and remaining quiet when approached. Behavioral observations were performed by a blinded observer in a scan-sampling technique on day 0 (first day on adoption floor) and again on day 3 for experimental (n = 26) and control (32) dogs. Body posture, location in cage, and other behavioral parameters were recorded. Adoption information and behavioral observation data were compared between groups.
Results: Compared with the control group, the experimental group had a significantly greater percentage of dogs with an increase in desirable behaviors of sitting or lying down (17/26 [65%] vs 7/32 [22%]) and being quiet (9/26 [35%] vs 4/32 [13%]) and a significantly greater percentage of dogs with a decrease in the undesirable behavior of jumping (15/26 [57%] vs 3/32 [9%]). Location in cage, fearfulness, and eye contact were not significantly different between groups. Survival analysis revealed no significant difference in adoption rates between groups.
Conclusions and clinical relevance: Results suggested that enrichment programs improve desirable behaviors and decrease undesirable behavior in shelter dogs, which may enhance welfare.