For most dogs, being relinquished to an animal shelter is a drastic change and a stressful experience. Even though a shelter may make every effort possible to make a dog’s new shelter home welcoming, it is still often a place where dogs will be confined, separated from their previous families, and exposed to more noise due to the close proximity of other dogs. These environmental changes are very stressful for most dogs. Because of the influence of individual dog personality on behavior, signs of stress can vary. Some dogs will hide in the back of the kennel, be less active or stop eating. Some dogs may behave aggressively in response to stress, while other dogs will begin to perform repetitive behaviors, increase their frequency of barking/vocalization, become destructive, and start to urinate and defecate in their kennel. Stress may also affect a shelter dog’s physical health, causing increased susceptibility to diseases and a longer recovery time from illness.
In order to identify stress, shelter staff must observe and note the dog’s behaviors daily. By performing daily observations, a shelter will be able to accurately identify changes in behavior which are caused by stress and promptly modify the dog’s enrichment and training plan, thereby improving his or her welfare. Staff should observe a dog’s appetite, water intake, play, interest in people, grooming, urination/defecation, activity level, and performance of repetitive behaviors. The presence of abnormal behavior and the absence of normal behavior are equally important to note. A dog not eating and not playing may be just as stressed as a dog that is circling, barking, and lunging at the kennel door.