May 11, 2018

Aromatherapy: The Key to Canine Adoptability?

Researchers in England recently tested the effects of certain smells on stress-related behaviors in shelter dogs.
By Amanda Carrozza
SHELTER DOGSIn an effort to pinpoint new ways to reduce stress for shelter dogs, scientists from Hartpury University Centre in Gloucester, England tested the effects of presenting them with scent-infused cloths. The investigators noted that while olfactory stimulation has been shown to have positive behavioral effects in a range of contexts, its use among shelter dogs has remained relatively understudied. 

According to the authors of the current study, published recently in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, scent enrichment may calm shelter dogs and make them more adoptable.

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For the study, 15 shelter dogs were simultaneously exposed to 6 olfactory conditions using scented cloths following a fixed order: unscented cloth, coconut, vanilla, valerian, ginger, and no cloth. These scents were chosen because they are safe for dogs and easily accessible. The cloths were prepared 1 hour in advance using drops of essential oils and then kept in a sealed bag until used. The experimenter wore gloves to ensure that no additional scents were transferred to the cloths.

The dogs were given 30 minutes to get acquainted with the smell and then their behaviors were recorded every 10 minutes for 2 hours using instantaneous scan-sampling. During the second hour of observation, the shelter was open to the public. The experiment was always conducted in the middle of the day when feeding and exercise were not scheduled, so the dogs’ behavior was not influenced by waiting for meals. The tests were conducted for 3 days with an intervening period of 2 days between conditions.

The researchers found that certain smells caused specific reactions. Coconut, ginger, vanilla, and valerian all reduced activity and vocalizations such as barking and whining, and coconut and ginger also worked to increase sleep behaviors.

The scientists concluded that these 4 scents may be useful in shelter environments as a means to reduce behaviors indicative of stress, such as barking and excessive activity. By reducing stress, the dogs may also be more likely to be adopted because barking is a characteristic that often deters potential adopters.

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