A LOCAL rescue centre for stray and abandoned dogs has been applying science to the thorny question of how to get more of them successfully adopted.
Stress is reflected in dogs’ behaviour, and Jay Gee Dog Sanctuary at Algarkirk, near Boston, is putting a whole new regime in place to get every one of its 70 inmates to chill.
The centre is finding it harder than ever to rehome dogs in tough economic times, particularly as any behavioural issues they have can put off would-be owners.
While many dogs are good-natured and well-adapted in most respects, and would be fine if adopters followed the kennels’ advice, it’s getting harder to convince some people of that.
Manager Jo Hickson said: “We spent the summer being investigated by a Lincoln University student who studied the dogs’ stress levels.
“We’ve already put some new behavioural measures into practice and, in the new year, as a result of her findings, we’re changing how visitors get to see the dogs.
“She found that the way this is organised at the moment makes all the dogs more stressed.
“Constant visiting gets them all very excited and is frustrating for them, too.”
Animal behavioural science student Lynn Hewison compared stress hormones in urine, sound levels and behaviour in the kennels under present circumstances, when human visitors are free to wander round “meeting” the dogs through the kennel bars on six afternoons a week, with a period when there was no direct visitor access to the dogs.
Instead, suitable dogs were considered for each visitor and brought to meet the visitors on a lead individually, out of the kennel in another part of the shelter.
Two of the three results, on behaviour and sound levels, showed that no direct visitor access to the kennels had a positive influence on the dogs’ welfare.
Jo said: “We’re getting more staff in the new year, and then we’ll bring in the new system of bringing the dogs we’ve chosen as suitable to the potential owner.”
Already Jay Gee Algarkirk’s five full-time and two part-time staff members have started clicker training all the dogs in their care, using positive reinforcement with treats to influence their behaviour.
Jo said: “We used to tell them ‘no’ but now we use a clicker which they associate with their nightly treat.
“Then we reward them for learning a new trick, like stepping into a box, instead of just being negative.
“Dogs which have been with us a long time that have had heartbreaking stories and good reason to have issues are responding fantastically. It really works!”