Behavior and Cortisol Levels of Dogs in a Public Animal Shelter, and an Exploration of the Ability of These Measures to Predict Problem Behavior After Adoption

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Behavior and plasma cortisol levels were examined in puppies and juvenile/adult dogs admitted to a public animal shelter. A behavioral test was developed to assess the responses of the dogs to novel or threatening conditions. Factor analysis of the behavioral responses of 166 dogs on day 3 in the shelter yielded six factors (locomotor activity, flight, sociability, timidity, solicitation, and wariness) that accounted for 68% of the total variance. Among those dogs remaining in the shelter for 9 days, plasma cortisol levels declined from day 2 to 9. Cortisol levels were weakly related to factor scores. In order to explore the relation of measures in the shelter to later behavior, questionnaires assessing problem behaviors were mailed to new owners of dogs 2 weeks and 6 months following adoption. Among puppies, wariness scores were negatively correlated with behavior problems at 2 weeks and cortisol levels were negatively correlated with behavior problems at 6 months. These results suggest how measures of behavior and endocrine activity obtained in shelters might prove useful for screening dogs for adoption or targeting dogs for behavioral intervention.

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