Behavioral Population-Level Interventions at the Animal Shelter

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About the presentation:

With 10% of the dog population of the US currently housed in animal shelters, finding interventions to increase adoption rates has the potential to improve the quality of life for a large number of animals. As a first step in addressing the goal of systematically developing behavioral interventions to improve adoption rates, we assessed which morphological and behavioral characteristics predict adoption in shelter dogs. Using a large-scale observational design in dogs housed at a county shelter, we found that dogs that leaned or rubbed their body on the kennel, engaged in excessive locomotion, or faced away from the front of the kennel took a prolonged time to be adopted. Furthermore, we found that lying down next to and not ignoring play invitations from the potential adopter increased likelihood of adoption. These results were the first of their kind in providing data that suggested which behaviors to target when designing interventions. We then developed cost-effective interventions that improved the behavior of dogs both in and out of the kennel. We demonstrated that a simple Pavlovian pairing procedure is equivalent in efficacy to a more difficult-to-administer operant procedure in decreasing undesirable in-kennel behavior of shelter dogs. We also experimentally demonstrated an increase in adoptions when targeting relevant out-of-kennel behavior. Our results have provided shelters with empirically validated and efficient training procedures to reduce undesirable behaviors of shelter dogs and improve adoption rates.

Upon completion of this presentation, participants will be able to:

  • Understand the affects of morphology on the likelihood of adoption
  • Identify if behaviors targeted by the DRO procedures predicted human visitor behavior at the in-kennel level of selection
  • Identify target behaviors chosen based on their affect on the likelihood of adoption when observed at the out-of-kennel selection level

About the presenter:

Dr. Alexandra (Sasha) Protopopova, MS, PhD, CPDT-KA is an assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at Texas Tech University. The Human-Animal Interaction Lab, directed by Dr. Protopopova, systematically explores questions of companion animal well-being, behavior, and human-animal interactions. Her research aims are 1) to improve the well-being of dogs housed in animal shelters, 2) assess and develop therapy dog programs to benefit human health and educational outcomes, and 3) improve our general understanding of animal behavior. Dr. Protopopova earned an MS and a PhD in Behavior Analysis from University of Florida and is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer.