How Animal Behavior Affects Adoption Rates

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Updated: Apr 21, 2021
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“The statistics are staggering at the amount of animals that wind up in animal shelters and humane societies across the country. While purchasing an animal from a registered purebred breeder is perfectly within the rights of an individual, we are facing a crisis in this country of over population. Ideally, every animal would have a home and every home would have an animal. However, that being said, that is not the case that we are currently facing. Millions of animals go into shelters every year, but approximately one-sixth of them will not get the chance to have a home (Pet Statistics. ASPCA). Behavior plays a serious role in the process of an animal getting adopted or not. When a perspective adoptee first walks by the kennels, they will most likely be looking for a young, perky, and friendly animal. They will walk past and reject any animal that looks frightened or shows any signs of aggression and the longer an animal stays in the shelter the more likely it is that they will exhibit these behavior problems (Normado et al., 2006). Even though there are a significant number of animals coming into shelters day-in and day-out, a simple change in behavior could be the difference between remaining in the shelter or having the opportunity to start a life in a new home. That is why I wanted to look into this topic when doing my research, how does behavior affect adoption rates in the US. Adopting saves two lives, the one animal being adopted and the space that opened up for a new animal that might desperately need it.

According to Luescher and Medlock, about one-quarter of surrendered dogs have health or behavioral complications that are severe enough to make them unfit for adoption. That is why shelters are looking to increase social contact with humans so that the dogs at the shelter will exhibit less aggressive behaviors and become more behaviorally attractive and in turn more appealing to adoptees (Luescher and Medlock 2009). There was one particular study done at the Lafayette Tippecanoe County Humane Society in Indiana, using a total of 180 dogs with different breeds that were put up for adoption during the summer months of June through August. There were 92 dogs in the training group and 88 dogs in the control group. The dogs that were placed in the training group were slowly trained to put their head through a lead, sit on command, not to jump on people when they are approached, and not to bark at anyone who walked pasted their cages. This resulted in 116 dogs getting adopted which is 64% from the original 180 (Luescher and Medlock 2009). There was a logistic regression analysis done to conclude the effects of training when adopting animals and on average the trained dogs were 1.4 times more likely to be adopted compared to the untrained dogs (P=0.007 and is therefore significant). It was also statistically significant if the dog had a good temperament with other dogs (P=0.043). This study illustrated the effects of training on potential adoptions nicely. It showed a substantial increase in the adoptability of shelter dogs that were trained verses the control group of dogs.

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Research shows that the public views kind and sociable dogs as more adoptable and a study done by Alexandra Protopopova in 2012 looked into the effects of training and a few other factors on the success of shelter adoptions. While obedience is definitely a critical trait when selecting a pet, sociability could potentially play an even larger role in adoption. In this particular study, two experiments were conducted: the first looked at how social training through human-direction affected adoption success and other how factors affected the success, the second looked into how the physical appeal of the dogs affected adoption. Specifically in experiment, 1 this study theorized if dogs looked into peoples’ eyes then they would be more appealing and more likely to be adopted (Protopopova, Gilmour et al., 2012). The other factors that this study looked into included breed, color, age, sex, size, how the dog came to the shelter, and where the location of the kennel was. This study took place at the Gainesville Alachua County Animal Services in Florida where 180 dogs were up for adoption. Four dogs were removed from the study because of experimental error therefore the total recorded in the results was 176.

There were 58 trained, 59 fed, and 59 control dogs in this experiment. The dogs in the trained and fed section were given an extra 15 minutes of interactions throughout their stay at the shelter. The trained dogs were given treats if they completed the desired action whereas the fed group was given treats regardless of the behavior they were exhibiting. In the results, 70.7% of the training dogs were adopted, 64.4% of the fed group, and 67.8% of the control group were adopted as well (Protopopova, Gilmour et al., 2012). There was a one-tail t-test done which revealed the details between the trained and fed group was significant with a p-value of P=0.01. In addition to this, there was a final logistic regression model done for the remaining factors with kennel position being significant (P=0.02), type of intake being significant (P=0.04), and breed being significant (P

Unfortunately, millions of pets enter animal shelters throughout the country every year and only a fraction of those will leave by getting adopted. Another study in 2014 by Alexandra Protopopova investigated human and dog interactions within shelters and how these contextual factors affected adoptions. When a dog enters a shelter, even a non-euthanasia one, a prolonged stay in an impoverished environment can lead to significant welfare issues resulting in decreased changes of adoption. Therefore, in order to improve an animals’ welfare, their chances for adoption need to be increased. In this particular study, there were 151 dogs total that were observed at the Alachua County Animal Service in Gainesville, Florida. The dogs were housed in adjoining kennels with cage cards attached to the kennels. Potential adoptees would walk into shelter and select a dog that they wanted to interact with and do a “trail run” by taking the dog out of its kennel an onto a grassy area behind the shelter, an adjacent concrete area, or another indoor door and proceed to play with the dog. At this point during the experiment, the potential adoptees was asked if it were okay for them to be filmed interacting with the dog of their choosing.

The experimenter would record the interaction between the potential adoptee and the dog at the selected area and would end the recording when the adoptee had made a decision of whether or not to adopt the dog. If the adoptee wanted to interact with more than one individual dog, then the adoptee had to fill out an additional questionnaire for each of the dogs that they interacted with in order for the data set to be accurate. After the videos were concluded, the experimenter recorded the reason why the adoptee had chosen to adopt that particular dog. These reasons included but not limited to: behavior, looks, age, and breed. There were a total of 250 interactions that were recorded during this experiment, and 88 of these resulted in adoptions (35.2%) (Protopopova and Wynne 2014). Over the course of this experiment, no aggressive behaviors were observed and because of this aggression was removed from additional analysis. Amongst the various reasons for adoption, looks, age, breed, and behavior were amid the highest ranking. The trait of behavior ranked 81.8% for the reason why a dog was adopted, which illustrates that it is an important factor in selecting a new pet (Protopopova and Wynne 2014). The results proved to be significant with a p-value of P

There was another smaller study done by Merry Lepper in 2002 that primarily looked into how breed and age of cats and dogs affected adoption rates, but Lepper found that behavior also played a significant role in pet selection as well. The data collected for this experiment was from the Sacramento County Department of Animal Care and Regulation between September 1994 and May of 1995. This study was compromised of 4,813 dogs and 3,301 cats. The results showed that 26% of the dogs were adopted and 20% of cats were also adopted (Lepper, Kass et al., 2002). When selecting an animal the adoptees looked at the breed, age, and also how the animal came into the shelter. If the dog came from a background with known behavior issues, there was a decreased likelihood that the dog would get adopted. Reason of relinquishment proved to be an important contributor to new adoptees. However, this reasoning did not apply to cats in the study, strays were preferred to those who had different backgrounds. This study concluded that people who choose to adopt a cat or dog from a shelter express preferences for breed, age, coat color, as well as behavior history.

The last study selected was by Leslie Sinn in 2016 and focused specifically on the factors that contributed to the selection of cats. The adoption rates for cats in the US have consistently been low compared to that of dogs. This factor alone has contributed the most to why an estimated 3-4 million pets are euthanized every year (Sinn 2016). This study consisted of an email survey that was directed towards cat adopters in 2011 at the Loudoun County Animal Services (LCAS) in Waterford, Virginia. There was a total of 239 emails obtained during the adoption process and of those 239, 97 responses were received which is an overall 41%. There were a total of 37 questions asked in the survey, which related to reasons for adoption. 81% of people responded to the question of “Reasons that influenced my decision adopt” with companionship being their first reason. The other top answers were: “A happy cat” at 69% and “Playfulness” at 68% (Sinn 2016). Another survey question looked into how important personality traits were and 81% of adoptees said that friendliness towards them was an important factor. This study concluded that behavioral characteristics were significantly more important to potential adopters than the physical characteristics of the cats. Behaviors can be altered and improved upon whereas physical appearance cannot be changed.

Based on the data and studies that have been done on animal behaviors and how they correlate with adoption rates, it is clear that behavior plays a significant role when people select which pet they want to adopt. While the breed of an animal, age, and physical appearance can affect people’s decision on whether or not to adopt, how that animal behaves will always be a contributing factor and something that people will take into consideration when selecting a potential pet whether that be a dog or a cat (Grant and Warrior 2019). This animal is going to be a part of their family and their lives for a significant period of time, because of that they will want to select an animal that bonds the most with them and that best fits their lifestyle. Choosing an animal is not a light-hearted decision and there are several factors to reflect upon before bringing one into a new home and how that animal behaves around a potential adoptee is the key to them getting adopted. A happier and better-behaved animal is far more likely to be adopted than one that is fearful of people and cowers in the corner.”

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How Animal Behavior Affects Adoption Rates. (2021, Apr 21). Retrieved from