Preference assessments and structured potential adopter-dog interactions increase adoptions

Alexandra Protopopova, Maria Brandifino, Clive Wynne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Previous research showed that lying down next to potential adopters and not ignoring their play initiations during interactions outside of the kennel correlate with increased likelihood of adoption in shelter dogs. In the present study, we experimentally assessed whether increasing these behaviors during interactions with potential adopters influenced adoption outcomes. In Experiment 1, we validated a brief play preference assessment in order to find individual preferences for toys in shelter dogs. We found that play with specific toys in the preference assessment predicted play in more naturalistic settings (χ2 = 10.50, P <0.001, n = 20). We then used a modification of this assessment as part of the experimental intervention. In Experiment 2, we randomly assigned dogs to the experimental structured-interaction (Group SI) and control (Group C) groups and evaluated 160 interactions between these dogs and potential adopters. The experimental intervention consisted of conducting a play preference assessment prior to the interaction and structuring the interaction once a potential adopter expressed interest in the dog. The structured interaction involved Phase 1-in which the visitor was encouraged to allow the dog to eliminate, Phase 2-in which the experimenter encouraged play with the dog's preferred toy, and Phase 3-in which the experimenter encouraged the dog to lie down next to a potential adopter by restraining the dog with a short leash and luring into a down position with treats. A mixed-effects logistic regression model revealed that group membership, but not morphology of the dog, was predictive of adoption outcome (χ2 = 3.95, P <0.047). Dogs in Group SI engaged in less undesirable behavior and were 2.49 times more likely to be adopted than dogs in Group C (23.3% adopted in Group C and 39.2% adopted in Group SI). A questionnaire revealed that potential adopters did not find the structured interaction intrusive. This validated intervention could be used in animal shelters to increase adoption rates in dogs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-95
Number of pages9
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Adoption
  • Animal shelter
  • Dog training
  • Preference assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Food Animals


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