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Can an In-Shelter Test Predict Separation-Related Problem Behavior in Dogs?

May 25

2:00 pm PT


Separation-related problem behaviors (SRPB) is a common problem in dogs and a common cause of their relinquishment. Despite its severity and prevalence there is little research on the prediction of SRPB. Being able to predict SRPB in shelter dogs would help shelters identify at-risk dogs and allocate pre- and post-adoption resources to those dogs, including providing more targeted behavior counseling and better placement decisions. In this talk, we will discuss the current state of scientific literature on characteristics of dogs or owners that correlate with dogs exhibiting SRPB and then delve into our own behavioral study on predicting SRPB. We tested whether we could predict post-adoption behavior of stray shelter dogs from an in-shelter test. We tested 27 shelter dogs. After interacting with the dog for 30 min, we left it alone in the room and video-recorded its behavior. We coded behaviors associated with SRPB as well as those not associated with SRPB (e.g., play or passive behavior). Dogs additionally wore an activity monitor, and we collected salivary cortisol at three time points. Finally, we contacted adopters approximately 6 mos after adoption to determine dogs’ at-home behavior. We assessed the time-course of different behaviors of individual dogs across the 30 min test as well as the individual dogs’ time allocation between different behaviors. We will discuss the relationships between behavior on an in-shelter test, activity monitor data, changes in cortisol, and post-adoption behavior and what that means for predicting dogs’ needs in shelters and after adoption.

Presented By:

Erica Feuerbacher

Dr. Erica Feuerbacher is an Assistant Professor in Animal & Poultry Sciences at Virginia Tech and director of the Applied Animal Behavior & Welfare Lab, where she works with dogs and horses. She earned her Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Florida in the UF Canine Cognition and Behavior Lab and her Master’s in Behavior Analysis at the University of North Texas in the Organization for Reinforcement Contingencies with Animals. Prior to joining Virginia Tech, she was an Assistant Professor at Carroll College in Helena, MT, where she led the canine program in which students trained foster dogs during the academic year. She has worked as a shelter behavior consultant, offered group dog training classes and private behavior consultations, and is co-founder of the Shelter Dog Institute. She is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, and has attended the Academy for Dog Trainers. Her research and publications focus on understanding domestic animal behavior and learning from a behavior analytic perspective, using applied behavior analysis to solve behavioral issues in dogs and horses, and identifying interventions that improve shelter dog welfare. She teaches courses in the Companion Animal and Equine emphases in her department, including Applied Animal Behavior and Equine Behavior & Training. She has earned several awards for her behavior analytic research and her dedication to the theoretical foundations of behavior analysis. She is passionate about humane, effective animal training, and working with owners, trainers, and shelter staff to improve our interactions with animals through behavior analysis and understanding the environmental determinants of behavior.