Each year, nearly three million dogs will enter one of over 13,000 animal shelters in the United States. The purpose of this dissertation is to better understand how breed identity and dog welfare in the shelter, in addition to post-adoption and fostering interventions out of the shelter, can contribute to the betterment of dog lives. In Chapter 2, I conducted the largest sampling of shelter dogs’ breed identities to-date to determine their breed heritage and compare shelter breed assignment by staff as determined by visual appearance to that of genetic testing. In Chapter 4, I examined the efficacy of a post-adoption intervention intended to reduce returns by encouraging physical activity between adopters and their dogs. In Chapter 6, I examined the effects of brief stays in a foster home on the urinary cortisol: creatinine ratios of dogs awaiting adoption compared to ratios collected before or after their stays; and in Chapter 7, I characterized the relationships between multiple physiological, health, and cognitive measures and the in-kennel behavior of shelter dogs.
Four suggestions from the findings of this dissertation that will likely better the lives of dogs living in animal shelters are: 1) Shelter dog breed heritage is complex and visually identifying multiple breeds in a mixed breed dog is difficult at best. Shelters should instead focus on communicating the morphology and behavior of the dogs in their care to best support adopters. 2) While encouraging walking did not influence owner behavior, adopters who reported higher obligation and self-efficacy in dog walking were more active with their dogs. Thus, post-adoption interventions that can effectively target owner perceptions of obligation and self-efficacy may be more successful in changing behavior. 3) Temporary fostering is an impactful intervention that reduces stress for dogs awaiting adoption; however addressing stressors present at shelters that are likely contributing to higher stress responding is also needed. 4) It is possible to predict the internal stress responding of shelter dogs by observing their overt, in-kennel behavior, and this study is a first step in assessing and improving the welfare of dogs living in animal shelters.