The Potential Role of Behavioural Flexibility in Dogs and Dog Adopters in the Success of Shelter Dog Rehoming

Griffin, Karen (2020) The Potential Role of Behavioural Flexibility in Dogs and Dog Adopters in the Success of Shelter Dog Rehoming. PhD thesis, University of Lincoln.

The Potential Role of Behavioural Flexibility in Dogs and Dog Adopters in the Success of Shelter Dog Rehoming
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Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Item Status:Live Archive


Unwanted and homeless dogs are an international problem. However, the way in which the dog-owner relationship and the rehoming process itself are commonly conceptualised in relevant research seems to assume that this relationship is a static one; the fundamental characteristics of it being an intimate dynamic relationship have either largely not been considered or have been ignored. Because the dog-owner relationship is intrinsically dynamic, conflict within the relationship, stemming from the demands of the domestic environment, can be expected to arise at some point. Therefore, the ability to resolve conflict may be a very important characteristic; key to this is behavioural flexibility. This thesis hypothesises that the ability of a dog to effectively “fit in” to this environment is determined by its ability to cope with these demands, which may be predicted from their behavioural flexibility, so assessing it in dogs and potential adopters could be useful in the rehoming process. Rehoming practices currently being used by shelters were qualitatively analysed. Ten themes emerged from the types of information organisations gathered during the adopter screening process; 37 characteristics were identified as “most important”; 31 of those could lead an adopter being deemed unable to adopt a dog. Evidence was found in the academic literature to support the inclusion of 12 of these characteristics. Nine themes emerged from the types of information respondents gathered from pre-adoption dog screening assessments; within those themes, 71 sub-themes were created. Of those, 42 characteristics (subthemes and one theme) were identified as being “most important”, 28 of which could lead a dog to be deemed unadoptable. Evidence in the scientific literature to support the inclusion of the 71 sub-themes and one theme was found for eight of them. Organisations invest considerable resources into screening dogs and potential adopters, but there seems to be little scientific rationale for this. To assess flexibility in humans, measures used to place human foster children into homes were adapted to be relevant to the dog-owner relationship, which were then administered to three samples: long-term dog owners, dog relinquishers, and dog adopters. One of the measures was unreliable and unable to distinguish between the long-term dog owner and relinquisher populations. The other measure contained six reliable items, which were able to mathematically separate long-term dog owners from dog relinquishers. These results suggest that long-term dog owners are more flexible than relinquishers in some areas of their expectations of dog behaviour, namely of a dog’s ability to adapt. A testing battery was created to understand in what ways two dog populations (those that are currently in a shelter and long-term owned dogs) differ in terms of their flexibility, based on six factors hypothesised to comprise behavioural flexibility in dogs. The two populations of dogs were tested using two testing means (i.e. by the principal investigator and by a citizen science approach). Two potential confounds, dog weight and testing means, were found to be associated with test outcomes for one entire test and several items on other tests. Four total items from the remaining three tests were used together to attempt to classify dogs into the correct population. Only two items from one test were able to classify dogs into the correct population, but they were unable to classify the origins of the long-term owned dogs, so it was determined that for the purposes of this research all tests were unreliable. Consequently, dogs who had remained in homes could not be compared with shelter dogs. Despite this, the results raise important considerations for dog assessments generally. The role of dog weight has not been considered as a potential confound in dog assessments, but it may be that dogs of different sizes are fundamentally experiencing the world differently; thus, the same testing protocol may not be appropriate for all dogs. Similarly, it should not necessarily be assumed data collected via a citizen science approach can be combined with data collected by trained investigators.

Behavioural flexibility may be an important aspect of the dog-owner relationship, due to its close personal nature, coupled with all of the varied demands that a dog faces in a home environment. However, evidence suggests that future research should primarily focus on investigating flexibility in humans, as it is ultimately the owner who decides to terminate the relationship and relinquish the dog, and this is the area that yielded the most encouraging results in this thesis. There are two key additional foci for future research: longitudinal research to follow dogs from arrival at the shelter until at least one year post-adoption in order to determine what practices and policies pre-adoption are most beneficial to the success of the placement, and the development of a validated tool to assess dogs’ quality of life, which could be used to assess the success of the placement from the dog’s perspective.

Divisions:College of Science > School of Life Sciences
ID Code:46813
Deposited On:04 Oct 2021 12:38

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