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AKC Canine Heath Foundation Awards Shelter- Medicine Grant to Reduce Dogs Surrendered to Shelters


The AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF) is proud to announce funding for a unique and unprecedented study evaluating methods to reduce the number of dogs surrendered to animal shelters and rescue groups.

Boy Walking Two DogsCHF has provided a research grant to Dr. Clive Wynne, Ph.D. of Arizona State University to study whether an owner-dog exercise program can decrease return rates of newly adopted dogs by improving the human-animal bond. Dr. Wynne hypothesizes that shared, structured exercise between the new owner and the newly adopted dog will provide a buffer against return by promoting social bonding and attachment to the dog, and improve the physical and mental health of both parties.

A dog’s behavior can quite literally be the difference between life and death. While most responsible dog owners can attest to the benefits of obedience training and regular exercise, some dogs do not benefit from this type of environment. Instead, they are left alone for long periods of time, crated for much of the day, and not given the opportunity to exercise. When dogs are not integrated into a family and given their natural opportunity to play, exercise, and be social with their humans, behavior problems can arise.

For some dog owners, behavior problems become overwhelming and they are either unable or unwilling to work with their dog on obedience issues, or they are unaware of the correlation between negative behaviors and lack of exercise. According to national figures, the majority of owner-surrenders – dogs being placed in shelters or with rescue organizations -- are due to behavior problems. Recidivism, or re-surrender of dogs to shelters, is similarly linked to behavior problems.

Dr. Wynne, in collaboration with the Arizona Animal Welfare League/SPCA, will monitor 180 dog-owner pairs will be randomly assigned to one of two conditions upon adoption of the dog: an exercise program and a control condition. The exercise group participants will receive pedometers and be asked to log their physical activity with their dog. The exercise group participants will also participate in a weekly social event with their dogs in which they will be asked to bring their logged data, hear about the benefits of dog walking, get ideas on ways to exercise with their dogs, and receive advice in basic dog training. Return rates of the dogs in both groups will be collected from shelter statistics.

Dr. Wynne predicts that owner-dog pairs that are assigned to the exercise program will have lower return rates and a higher attachment compared to the owner-dog pairs that are assigned to the control condition. Furthermore, he predicts the return rates will correlate with the amount of physical activity as measured by the pedometers.

According to Dr. Bernard Rollins, professor of philosophy at Colorado State University and a member of the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Central Editorial Board, “Dr. Wynne’s research is a new and fresh approach to the issue of owner surrender. What is being proposed is that people will bond far more successfully with animals, and be loath to return them to shelters, if persons and their animals jointly participate collaboratively in some activity – in this case, a professionally directed exercise program.”

Rescue Groups Will Also Benefit from Research

The AKC Canine Health Foundation receives support from nearly 150 breed parent clubs. Most of these parent clubs operate breed specific rescue organizations throughout the United States.

At the heart of this ground-breaking research is the need to further understand the human-animal bond. Dr. Wynn’s findings will benefit animal shelters, breed-specific rescue organizations, and all other organizations that actively work to re-home dogs. By working to reduce the number of dogs surrendered to shelters, the strain on breed-specific rescue groups and other organizations can be greatly reduced.

Read more about the grant.

Woman with Yellow DogDr. Rollins also believes that putting science behind owner surrender could have a much broader impact for society, “This is a very creative and new approach to a problem that is highly significant societally. If we learn that co-participation in a regular program of exercise cuts down on relinquishment of animals, we would have a whole new approach not only to stable homing of animals, but also a way of limiting the obesity plague affecting both humans and animals.”

Dr. Shila Nordone, CHF’s Chief Scientific Office states, “CHF is committed to all aspects of a dog’s physical, mental, and social well-being. Studies like Dr. Wynne’s are unique and important because they address each of these aspects of canine health. By defining the underlying cause of owner surrenders, and developing tools and educational strategies to mitigate the risk of these surrenders, CHF hopes to reduce unnecessary companion animal euthanasia and make a positive impact on all dogs.”