It is amazing how little time is required for petting to make a big difference in their stress levels. At the 2014 American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Symposium researchers presented an abstract synopsis of a yet to be published study of 15-minute petting sessions with shelter dogs. The results are illuminating and really reinforce the impact of companionship in helping shelter dogs adjust to potential adoption.
The Dog Stress Study
Fifty-five shelter dogs were subjected to one 15-minute petting session with an unfamiliar volunteer at a county animal shelter. The sessions were videotaped and the volunteers were given specific instructions on how to interact and pet the subject dogs. Saliva was collected from the dogs to analyze their body cortisol, or stress hormone, levels before and after petting. The heart rate of the dogs was also monitored for the entire 15-minute session.
As expected there was a great deal of variation of response depending on the age, temperament, coping styles, and time spent in the shelter among the animals. In fact, cortisol levels before and after petting were not different. This suggests that stress was still a constant despite the petting session. Another explanation is that 15 minutes is a relatively short period of time to detect significant changes in body cortisol levels in saliva and would not reflect potential real changes in cortisol secretion.
What was observed was a statistically significant decrease in heart rate and behavior changes consistent with a positive state of relaxation. The observation of the researchers is that “yes, 15 minutes does make a difference” for many shelter dogs.
The Implications of the Dog Stress Study
If only 15 minutes can make a difference, what difference could multiple 15-minute sessions make in the re-socialization of abandoned or lost pets?
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