Reducing Stress In An Animal Shelter

Dear Julie,

I work for a very active Animal Shelter, operating out of an old building that presents many challenges for our staff, one of which being increased stress for our resident dogs.  In the Behaviour 101 course you taught, you discussed methods to reduce the stress levels of family pets; do you have any suggestions on how a shelter could reduce the stress for our dogs?

 

Sincerely,

Animal Care Attendant

 

Dear Animal Care Attendant,

 

Creating a stress ‘free’ environment is next to impossible for any facility responsible for kenneling animals; however, our goal can be to minimize every animal’s stress level as much as possible.  Reducing an animal’s stress level can be achieved through a combination of tactics including; creating predictability through scheduling, regular exercise, daily mental stimulation and shelter stimulant control.

 

Stimulants are anything that generate strong scents, sound, motion, and touch and include everything from creating loud sounds within the facility to shouting across the room at another employee.  A quiet environment that provides environmental enrichment such as audio and visual stimulation, can help promote a sense of calm amongst the visiting animals.  So, let’s look at how we can achieve our goals in a busy shelter environment.

 

Some tips for controlling audio stimulation include; playing classical music at a moderate volume during the day time to help drown out sounds from outside, avoid yelling or speaking loudly with other employees around the animals, refrain from leaving doors open or slamming them as you pass through and keep all cleaning activities during daytime hours.

 

Promote a healthy sleep and awake cycle by turning the lights on between 7:00am and 10:00pm to encourage activity, and off between the hours of 10:00pm and 7:00am to promote sleep.  Providing the animals an afternoon quiet time or nap time allows them the opportunity to rest and help avoid overstimulation.

 

Developing a daily schedule that includes meals, walks, play and social interaction, taking place roughly around the same time every day, helps create predictability and reduce anxiety.

 

Controlling visual stimulation can be a tricky business, on one hand you want a certain level of visual stimulant to help reduce the stress of boredom, on the other hand you want to ensure the dog is not being overstimulated in the process.  Some suggestions you can consider include; avoiding all unnecessary movement and activity in the animal rooms during lights out and quiet times, turn off all environment enrichment visual stimulation 1 to 2 hours before lights out. If the dog is being reactive when other dogs walk past their kennel, place them in a location where they are less likely to be passed and put a blind over the bottom 2/3rds of the cage door.

 

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us as Canine Foundations is proud to offer Shelter Behaviour Enrichment and Environment Enrichment training for shelter staff.

 

Julie Speyer, CDBC, CPDT-KA