Module 4: The Case of the Barking Dog

A Sense of Control

Think about the times in your life when you have been THE MOST stressed. You may remember thinking to yourself how everything just seemed completely “out of control”! In fact, a “sense of control” over conditions is well recognized as one of the most critical needs for emotional health. This means that we must provide animals with a variety of satisfying behavioral options—they need variety, and they need choice! Giving them a sense of control is an incredibly powerful means of improving their welfare in the shelter.

Positive Predictable Interactions and Creature Comforts

Not knowing what to expect is stressful for people and animals alike. Picture yourself far away from home, from all the things you know—deposited for unknown reasons in a strange, confining place where you don’t know anyone. What would help you cope? What would decrease your stress? One of the most important things would be for you to be able to know what to expect. If you knew what to expect, you could deal with and adjust to the daily routine. In fact, knowing when both pleasant and not-so-pleasant things are going to happen helps both people and animals cope because we can learn what to expect when, and can prepare ourselves. For example, if events that are perceived as stressful or scary (such as cleaning time) occur on a predictable schedule, animals can learn to cope more easily because they will know that they can relax afterward. Having positive predictable events to look forward to every day will also help tremendously. For example, if dogs know that they will reliably get to go outside for exercise at the same times every day, they will learn to look forward to these times, and learn to relax in between. Providing animals with a predictable daily schedule can go a long way toward decreasing stress! Likewise, we all like to feel safe, secure, and comfortable. Think about the many simple things that can make animals more comfortable—a soft bed, a cozy hiding spot, a safe refuge, something nice to look at, something pleasant to smell, or something tasty to eat . . .


person offer dog a treat through chain link fence at front of run
Here’s an example of a positive predictable interaction: the simple act of providing a dog with a tasty treat can go a long way towards creating a healthy emotional environment.


(Left) white cat perches comfortably on top of a sturdy cardboard box inside her cage; (Right) Orange cat perches comfortably on a hammock style platform bed in a chain link run
Cats utilize various resting perches inside their enclosures including the top of a purpose designed paper box (left) and a raised platform style perch (right). A huge part of being comfortable in a new place is feeling safe: cats need comfortable places to hide as well as the ability to perch at secure vantage points. Likewise, dogs need comfortable beds and the ability to take refuge if desired. For comfort and security, each animal needs its own familiar place with its familiar scent, and to be cared for by consistent, familiar people.


(Left) a dog rests on a platform bed with a blanket and toys; (Right) a cat stretches out on a blanket in a small chain link balcony extending from his larger indoor housing compartment
Creature comforts also include soft bedding, toys and other items or arrangements that provide animals with a variety of options, stimulate normal behavior and provide outlets for animals to help them cope in a new environment. (Left) A soft, dry bed is essential for all shelter animals: platform beds like the one pictured here are popular choices for the kennel because they elevate dogs from the floor, helping to keep them warm and dry. This dog also has a cozy blanket and a variety of chew toys to stimulate him. (Right) Having the ability to change locations, observe a pleasant view, and get some fresh air are also comforting: this cat partakes of all three of these as he lounges in this neat outdoor balcony compartment, which is an extension of his larger indoor enclosure. He has variety and choice!

When animals are provided with regular, consistent, predictable positive interactions and pleasant activities, they learn what to expect and can adapt and adjust to the routine. In other words, animals quickly learn consistent routines—and they will acclimate to a new environment much more quickly if they know who will be caring for them and when, and that the experience will be a positive one. Thus a good emotional environment promotes adaptation to the shelter environment because animals can learn to what to expect, have the ability to shield themselves from unpleasant stimuli, and are afforded the provision of basic essential creature comforts, as well as some control, variety, and choice.


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Integrating Veterinary Medicine with Shelter Systems Copyright © 2020 by University of Florida is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.