Pairing shelter dogs together ‘could cut stress and help them find homes sooner’

Pairing shelter dogs with a compatible companion could help to reduce their stress and might help them find homes sooner, a study suggests.

The findings offer one possible solution for animal shelters struggling with limited space and long waits for dogs needing adoption, researchers say.

According to the study, dogs housed together not only showed fewer stress behaviours such as whining and lip-licking, but they were also adopted, on average, four days sooner than single-housed dogs.

Erica Feuerbacher, associate professor at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ School of Animal Sciences in the US, who led the study, said: “Despite being a social species, dogs are often housed alone in shelters to reduce disease transmission and possible injury from inter-dog conflict.

“But this social isolation can work against dogs’ behavioural health and adoptability.

“We wanted to examine whether pair housing could be a useful intervention for improving shelter dogs’ welfare.”

Dr Feuerbacher hopes the findings will encourage animal shelters to match dogs with suitable “roommates” as a way to reduce their stress and show them at their best to potential adopters.

She said: “Many potential adopters might already have a dog or would like to engage in social activities with their dog.

“Clearly exhibiting that a dog can successfully interact with other dogs might highlight those dogs as good matches – leading to more successful adoptions.”

The study, published in the journal Plos One, is the first to examine how US-based shelter dogs fare in co-housing versus solitary housing.

Previous studies of the benefits of co-housing dogs focused on beagles in laboratories and veterinary school dogs who were housed for more than six months.

Two collie puppies greet each other nose to nose
Shelter dogs spend an average of 35 days waiting to be adopted (Gareth Fuller/PA)

In contrast, shelter dogs spend an average of 35 days waiting to be adopted.

Funded by the Waltham Foundation, the study followed 61 dogs over seven days at the Humane Society of Western Montana.

Half of the dogs were co-housed with partners who were matched through a brief introduction and compatibility test, and the other half were kennelled alone.

Researchers observed the dogs throughout the week, recording common stress behaviours, and took daily urine samples to measure biological indicators of stress.

The research team included Grace Hecker, a current veterinary student at the Royal Veterinary College in London, Katherine Martineau, a former student research assistant at Carroll College, and professional dog trainers Mariah Scheskie and Rhonda Hammerslough.