Can Walking Reduce Long-Term Stress in Dogs?
Image Credit: Claudia Bensimoun
We’ve all wondered about the different ways in which one may be able to reduce stress in our dogs, most especially before competitions. Chances are if you’re feeling stressed, your pooch is feeling stressed out as well.
No matter what level you’re competing at, if you’re feeling stressed, your dog is most likely stressed, and going for a quick walk away from the competition can help reduce stress for both competitor and dog alike, improving the chances for a good run.
According to a research paper published in the journal Physiology and Behavior, Dr. Simona Cafazzo and colleagues:
- Assessed the welfare of dogs in 8 shelters in the Lazio Region of Italy.
- Cafazzo also used innovative approaches by measuring oxidative stress and behavioural indicators.
- The researchers found that the variable that made the most difference was for dogs to leave their shelter kennels and be taken on walks regularly.
- Dogs enjoyed this and yielded a higher antioxidant capacity, with less anxious behavior.
- These dogs also displayed much more sociable behavior towards other dogs and people.
The study initially aimed at assessing the welfare of shelter dogs, and was done at the Department of Neuroscience, University of Parma. According to the research paper, the researchers, Dr. Simona Cafazzo and colleagues wanted to study the long- term impact of the “no-kill” law, which was passed in Italy in 1991. 8 out of 47 shelters were studied in the Lazio region between 2004 and 2008. After the “no-kill” law was implemented in Italy, there was a huge over- population of shelter dogs. There were also dog welfare problems and higher management shelter costs. That said, Dr. Cafazzo and colleagues wanted to see how they could improve the lives of dogs that had not found forever homes, and that ended up becoming long-term stays at shelters. Dr. Cafazzo’s presentation can also be heard by audio at: sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0031938414003369
What Was Studied?
According to the research paper, the differences in the physiological status of oxidative stress were found to be linked to canine behavioral responses. These behavioral responses included agitation, increased anxiety and other stereotyped canine behavior.
- 97 dogs
- Healthy mixed breeds
- Ages between 2 and 7
- All the shelter dogs had been living at the shelter for at least 2 to 3 years.
- The researchers took blood samples from each shelter dog that participated in the study.
- The researchers also checked to see whether the blood results and stress related behaviors were linked.
The researchers looked at the following:
- The concentration of the stress related hormone cortisol. This measures short-term stress.
- The concentration of white blood cells. This measures long-term stress.
Effects Of Stress on Dogs
According to this research paper, chronic stress in dogs can cause health problems. Tissue damage is the result of chronic stress. Dogs that have high stress levels will also have an increase in their white blood count. There is also the increased production of antioxidants used to fight against tissue damage. Thus, the blood analysis done by Dr. Cafazzo and colleagues was helpful in demonstrating if there were long-term stressors, and how the body reacted to this.
How Was The Study Done?
Dr.Cafazzo and her colleagues observed the dogs for 5 hours each. The dogs that were living in a group shelter were videotaped and their behaviors were scored accordingly. What the researchers were looking for was behavior that indicated that the shelter dogs were stressed. These behaviors included shaking, muzzle licking, pacing, panting, biting their shelter cages, and growling. They also watched out for behaviors that demonstrated low levels of stress like licking, tail wagging and non-aggressiveness with other dogs and people.
Results of the Research
Although the researchers looked at the environmental conditions and temperament of the shelter dogs to see what conditions were directly linked to lower stress levels, they found that there was only one thing that was critical to maintaining low stress levels. Dr. Cafazzo and colleagues also found that certain factors had no direct affect on lowering stress levels such as:
- Whether the dog was a male or female
- The size of the kennel at the shelter
- Whether the dogs stayed in their kennels alone or together with another dog
- Whether the dog was neutered or spayed
According to this research paper, the researchers discovered that there was one thing that really decreased stress levels, and that was being walked consistently by a volunteer at the dog shelter. Dogs that were walked often demonstrated less unwanted behaviors. They were not as anxious or stressed, and enjoyed being around other dogs and people.
The research results were surprising since Dr. Cafazzo examined many variables. Initially they wanted to find out how long-term shelter dogs faired after the “no-kill” law was passed in Italy. The researchers found that “ Dogs that enjoyed the regular walk had a higher total antioxidant capacity, and performed a lower frequency of displacing activities and stereotyped behavior. Moreover, oxidative stress parameters seem to be indicators well matched with behavioral indicators of stress. Thus, for the first time, markers of oxidative status are utilized for the welfare evaluation in the domestic dog. Furthermore, the results of this paper give some suggestion about how small steps can help to improve shelters and, furthermore, this paper intends to solicit the debate on the no-kill policy.” via Abstract, Science Direct. For more information, visit: USDAA
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