Previous empirical evaluations of training programs aimed at improving dog adoption rates assume that dogs exhibiting certain behaviors are more adoptable. However, no systematic data are available to indicate that the spontaneous behavior of shelter dogs has an effect on adopter preference. The aim of the present study was to determine whether any behaviors that dogs exhibit spontaneously in the presence of potential adopters were associated with the dogs' length of stay in the shelter. A sample of 289 dogs was videotaped for 1 min daily throughout their stay at a county shelter. To account for differences in adopter behavior, experimenters varied from solitary passive observers to pairs of interactive observers. Dogs behaved more attentively to active observers. To account for adopter preference for morphology, dogs were divided into "morphologically preferred" and "non-preferred" groups. Morphologically preferred dogs were small, long coated, ratters, herders, and lap dogs. No theoretically significant differences in behavior were observed between the two different dog morphologies. When accounting for morphological preference, three behaviors were found to have a significant effect on length of stay in all dogs: leaning or rubbing on the enclosure wall (increased median length of stay by 30 days), facing away from the front of the enclosure (increased by 15 days), and standing (increased by 7 days). When combinations of behaviors were assessed, back and forth motion was found to predict a longer stay (increased by 24 days). No consistent behavioral changes were observed due to time spent at the shelter. These findings will allow shelters to focus behavioral modification efforts only on behaviors likely to influence adopters' choices.
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