Behavioural and glucocorticoid responses of dogs (Canis familiaris) to kennelling: Investigating mitigation of stress by prior habituation

Short Synopsis: Creatine/cortisol ratios are useful for measuring acute stress in dogs. Researchers wanted to see how habituation to an environment could reduce acute stress for dogs in a kennel environment.

They took 31 1-year-old male Labrador Retrievers and habituated half of them to a kennel environment. This was a long, careful process of introducing young puppies to crates and eventually indoor/outdoor kennel areas using lots of positive reinforcement.

They then put all of the dogs into kennels. All dogs got more stressed by entering the kennel, but the stress levels (as measured by cortisol/creatine levels) were higher in the non-habituated dogs.

The non-habituated dogs also continued to have elevated c/c levels even 12 weeks after their transfer.

Interestingly, behavior didn’t correlate much with c/c levels. Some dogs seemed to “cope” better behaviorally, for example by whining less. However, this might be a learned behavior and not an indication of reduced stress, since c/c levels didn’t correlate with behavior change.

This is useful information for shelter workers or veterinary workers who would like to reduce stress in their clients’ dogs. It appears that habituation to a kennel environment can reduce the dogs’ stress in that new environment.

This paper also suggests that letting a dog “cry it out” may lead to long-term stress for the dog when compared to gradual, positive-reinforcement-based training for crate training dogs.

Authors: Nicola J. Rooney, Samantha A. Gaines, John W.S. Bradshaw

Publication: Physiology and Behavior

Publication Date: November 21 2006

Applies To: Kenneled dogs, boarding dogs, shelter dogs

Sample Size: 31 male Labs

Limitations/Drawbacks: Male-only, lab-only sample.

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