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Human interaction and cortisol: Can human contact reduce stress for shelter dogs?

By Crista L. Coppola, Temple Grandin, R. Mark Enns

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Animal shelters are an extremely stressful environment for a dog, most specifically due to social isolation and novel surroundings. The stress response of dogs housed in this environment may be alleviated through human interaction shortly after arrival. During their second day in a public animal shelter, adult stray dogs were either engaged in a human contact session or not. The session involved taking the dog into an outdoor enclosure, playing with the dog, grooming, petting and reviewing basic obedience commands. Each dog interacted with a human for approximately 45 min. Salivary cortisol levels were examined from each dog on their 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 9th day of housing. Animals that engaged in a human contact session had lower cortisol levels on day 3 than animals that did not. Breed type, sex and age did not have an effect on cortisol levels on any day measured. A human interaction session can be beneficial to both animal welfare and adoption procedures. The current study not only utilized the human contact session as a treatment to reduce stress but also as a resource for individual temperament/personality information that could be later used to facilitate compatible adoptions. Human interaction may be an effective means of reducing the cortisol response of dogs in the aversive shelter environment.


Christopher C Charles

Purdue University

Date 2005
Publication Title Physiology & Behavior
Volume 87
Issue 3
Pages 537–541
ISBN/ISSN 0031-9384
Publisher Elsevier
DOI 10.1016/j.physbeh.2005.12.001
URL http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0031938405005433
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal health and hygiene
  2. Animal housing
  3. Animal shelters
  4. Animal welfare
  5. Cortisol
  6. Dogs
  7. Human-animal interactions
  8. Mammals
  9. peer-reviewed
  10. saliva
  11. Stress response
  1. peer-reviewed