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

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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.

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.

CHF 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.”

Dr. 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.”

CHF is a non-profit organization dedicated to funding research to prevent, treat and cure canine disease. Visit CHF online at http://www.akcchf.org for more information about the Foundation. Like CHF on Facebook, follow CHF on Twitter @CanineHealthFnd, or connect with CHF on LinkedIn.

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About CHF
The AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping dogs live longer, healthier lives by funding research that helps prevent, treat, and cure canine disease. Established in 1995, CHF’s mission is to advance the health of all dogs and their owners by funding sound, scientific research and supporting the dissemination of canine health information. Through the generous support of the American Kennel Club, Nestlé Purina PetCare, Zoetis (formerly Pfizer Animal Health), dog clubs, and dog owners worldwide, CHF has dedicated more than $40 million to canine health research projects and education programs. Visit CHF online at http://www.akcchf.org for more information.

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Sharla Seidel
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