In a laboratory setting, it is important to provide housing that allows expression in a wide range of species-typical behaviors while also meeting research goals. Substandard housing can lead to aggression, stereotyping, and anxiety. Understanding the animal’s natural behavior enables us to build quality environments that meet physical, behavioral, and social needs. Proper design is critical for improved health and welfare, both of which improve scientific validity.
Making changes to current housing standards can be challenging especially since facilities may be at very different levels of current housing. Work from where you are currently to make improvements. Furthermore, before implementing housing changes, be sure to consult the relevant scientific literature and consider the requirements of your scientific model. Each facility may require an individual approach to increasing housing standards as much as possible.
Staff working with dogs should be properly trained to recognize dog behavior signs (normal & abnormal), implement low-stress handling, and enact positive reinforcement training. Consulting with a behaviorist and treating dogs as individuals is highly recommended.
Key Natural Behaviors of Canines
- Highly social with humans and dogs
- Chewing, tracking, sniffing, & foraging
- Excellent sense of smell
- Sensitive to visual stimuli (especially from humans) and auditory stimuli (can perceive ultrasound). Use sight/smell to evaluate surroundings and for communication.
- Stable social groups (group or pair)
- Positive reinforcement training, habituation, & desensitization to equipment, handling, procedures, etc.
- Deliver food in a foraging feeder
- Daily physical contact with humans while cleaning/feeding
- Frequently rotated chew toys
- 15-30 minutes daily of exercise/novel exploration time outside of home enclosure (e.g., playroom or corridor). Ideally includes interaction with other dogs & staff.
- Puppies (4-16 weeks old) should be handled daily and provided positive interaction with staff
- Housing Recommendations
- Enough room to exercise
- Nonslip flooring
- Choice of elevated resting spot/platforms
- Ability for dogs to observe the housing room (e.g., with pop-out style observation windows)
- Sound-absorbent materials & smaller housing rooms to reduce noise
- Play area
- Outdoor access, if possible
- Enrichment Examples. Note: assess enrichment use & rotate preferred items regularly as some animals may find new enrichments aversive, especially without proper introduction or training (e.g., leash walks or pools).
- Olfactory: wiping scent on cage bars, offering toy with scent, canine pheromone diffusers, scenting bubbles, hiding treats in toys, leaving scent trail in open play space
- Auditory: dog appropriate music (low bass, even-toned, calming music), toys that make noise, podcasts/audiobooks
- Visual: the ability to view activity within homeroom with pop-out windows or raised platforms
- Gustatory: food enrichment with a variety of treats/foods that can be frozen, hidden, or hand-fed
- Tactile: frozen cubes, different textured toys, destructible items such as cardboard boxes, play
- Social: playtime with dogs & humans
- Physical exercise: water pools, digging areas, leash walks, exercise opportunities
- Cognitive: puzzle boards, challenging toys, forage mats, positive reinforcement training
- Refining Dog Husbandry & Care by researchers at the University of Stirling (includes extensive pictures & videos of research dogs)
- NC3Rs Dog Housing & Handling Resource (includes several beneficial pictures & videos)
- RSCPA Dogs: Good Practice for Housing & Care
- Animal Welfare Institute Refinement Database: Dogs
- Prescott et al. 2004. Refining Dog Husbandry & Care.
- Animal-centric Care and Management Enhancing Refinement in Biomedical Research
- The UFAW Handbook
- Comfortable Quarters For Laboratory Animals
- Guidelines for the Care and Housing of Dogs in Scientific Institutions
- Management of Animal Care and Use Programs in Research
- National Research Council 2004. The Development of Science-based Guidelines for Laboratory Animal Care: Proceedings of the November 2003 International Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.