Behavioural and physiological responses of shelter dogs to long-term confinement

Paolo Dalla Villa, Shanis Barnard, Elisa Di Fede, Michele Podaliri, Antonio Di Nardo, Carlo Siracusa, James A. Serpell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


In Italy, National Law (281/1991) prohibits euthanasia of shelter dogs if they are not dangerous or suffering seriously. Adoption rates in rescue shelters are often lower than entrance rates, leading inevitably to overcrowded facilities where animals are likely to spend the rest of their lives in kennels. In this situation, housing conditions (i.e. space provided, environmental, and social stimulation) may have an impact on canine welfare. In this research project, the effects of two different forms of housing (group- and pair housing) on long-term shelter dogs were compared using behavioural and physiological parameters. Observational data and saliva samples were collected from dogs exposed to both experimental settings; behaviour and cortisol concentration levels were used as welfare indicators. Pair housing offered fewer social and environmental stimuli and behavioural analysis showed a significant decrease in locomotor, exploratory, and social behaviour. Cortisol levels show that this parameter varied independently of housing conditions. Although this study found no evidence suggesting that one form of confinement reduced animal welfare more than the other (e.g. in terms of abnormal behaviour, or higher cortisol concentrations), the type of confinement did affect the expression of a variety of behaviours and these variations should not be ignored with respect to housing decisions for long-term shelter dogs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-241
Number of pages11
JournalVeterinaria Italiana
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013


  • Animal welfare
  • Behaviour
  • Canis familiaris
  • Cortisol
  • Dog
  • Long-term confinement
  • Rescue shelter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • veterinary(all)


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