Rescue dogs ‘are less stressed and adopted more quickly’ when kept in pairs

Two small dogs
Rescue dogs were adopted more quickly when housed in pairs, the study found - Judith Flacke/Alamy

Rescue dogs are less stressed and adopted more quickly when buddied-up in shelters, a study has found.

Dogs are often kept on their own while awaiting rehoming to prevent the spread of disease and prevent violence.

However, the study of 61 dogs in a shelter in Montana found that paired-up dogs are adopted in less than a week and four days quicker than when alone.

The stress levels of the animals were determined from video recordings of the dogs – and scientists also looked at the level of the stress hormone cortisol in canine urine.

Paired animals showed fewer stress-related behaviours and had lower cortisol levels than solo prospective pets.

“Overall, we found well-matched pair-housing can have both proximate and ultimate welfare benefits for shelter dogs,” the researchers from Virginia Tech wrote in their paper.

Workers at the shelter screened dogs for sociability and those who were friendly with other dogs and over six months of age were included in the project.

A stock image of a rescue puppy
Dogs kept alone in the study showed more signs of stress - Farlap/Alamy

Small and big dogs were paired with animals of comparable size and breed – and scientists monitored behaviour for a week.

Videos showed lonely dogs staring more into the eyes of passers-by, licking their lips more, and standing up on their back legs against the kennel wall.

Dogs on their own also whined more, played with a toy more often and spent longer with their ears pinned back against their skull.

“We found benefits of pair-housing for dogs in several of our experimental measures … All of these point to the welfare benefits of pair-housing for shelter dogs,” the authors wrote.

“The effect of pair-housing dogs was also apparent in dogs’ length of stay, with pair-housed dogs having a shorter length of stay by four days on average compared to single-housed dogs.”

The scientists also said the dogs showed signs of enjoying each other’s company, with dogs sharing a kennel often choosing to be close to each other.

“Dogs might find comfort in having a kennel mate,” the authors write. They add that while each dog had its own bed they saw anecdotal evidence that many of the paired animals chose to sleep together in one bed.

Almost half of the pairs of dogs also played with each other at some point during the experiment, the scientists say.

The authors warn that close care is needed to ensure dogs sharing kennels get on well, and not all animals will be suited to the living arrangement, but say it could be beneficial for some animals.

‘The results are no surprise’

Claire Stallard of national pet charity Blue Cross said: “This is a very interesting study and the results are no surprise to us, given that dogs are a social species and find isolation extremely challenging.

At Blue Cross, our approach is to treat every pet as an individual, providing the right type of care and support based on their specific needs and the accommodation we have available.

“Whereas co-housing provides certain benefits, Blue Cross focuses equally on reducing every pet’s length of stay in kennels and also provides alternatives to conventional kennelling such as our Home Direct approach (where dogs stay with their owners until a new home is found for them).

“We will also put our dogs into foster homes where we can, which is a far better option than being in kennels for most dogs.”

‘Different enrichment experiences’

A spokesman for Dog’s Trust told The Telegraph: “We work with each dog that comes into our care on a case-by-case basis and work around their needs, including socialising with other dogs in kennels and introducing them to different enrichment experiences.

“As the UK’s largest dog welfare charity with decades of expertise and experience at our fingertips, we will go the extra mile for every dog in our care to prepare them for the future they deserve, as quickly as we can so that they spend less time in kennels.”

The study was published in the journal Plos One.