A Pat on the Back (or the Neck or Chest …)
Dr. Emily Weiss shares research on what makes dogs tick—and what makes adopters pick.
A while ago I wrote a blog about “kissing” behavior in canines. I “brashly” made a suggestion in this blog—that, in order to make matches, shelters encourage potential adopters to solicit kisses from dogs known to be safe and responsive to that behavior. My suggestion was admonished by several who perceived this act of social interaction to be very risky and dangerous. I was sad.
I am saddened to think that some people are so risk-averse that we would not allow potential adopters to approach a dog determined to be safe and responsive to a “gimme a kiss” social cue to behave in the very manner we do every day with the dogs in our care. Where does the risk of that adopter not making a connection come into play? Maybe my post failed to communicate clearly that the “gimme a kiss” behavior is a natural, normal and safe social interaction, not only between dogs but between dogs and people. Gosh, we do it all the time, not only with the dogs who live in our homes, but the dogs in our shelters. I think I have kissed and been kissed by thousands of shelter dogs over the years, and I cherish every one…
I reached out to my friends and colleagues on Facebook to grab a few pictures of the behavior and was overwhelmed with a set of beautiful shots of so many with not just their dogs, but foster dogs and yes, shelter dogs. They blew me away with the emotion—not just from the people, but from the dogs as well.
There was a study published in 2014 by Protopopova and Wynne focused on adopter-dog interactions and predictors of adoption. They found that two factors correlated with adoption: ignoring play interactions by the adopter was negatively correlated with adoption, and lying near the adopter was positively correlated. Adopters are looking for a connection, and a more recent study points to the power of touch to help ensure a connection.
Another study, entitled “Shut up and pet me! Domestic dogs prefer petting to vocal praise in concurrent and single-alternative choice procedures,” was conducted by Feuerbacher and Wynne and published in Behavioural Processes. This super nifty study compared dogs’ preference for petting or vocal praise in both owned dogs and shelter dogs.
They found that not only did both owned and shelter dogs prefer petting to vocal praise, but a second experiment found that both owned and shelter dogs spent significantly longer in proximity to the experimenter when the interaction was petting compared to vocal praise or no interaction at all. And, the response did not decrease over time. The shelter dogs in this study were touched by strangers—and, remember, our adopters are strangers to them.
Not only do both studies cited here point to the power of the human-canine connection for the human, but also for the canine. Touch, interaction, an opportunity to connect—all powerful. Look at some of the amazing connections of these animal welfare professionals with their dogs—gimme a kiss, would cha?
From left to right:
Top Row: Mike, Lisa F., Natalie B.
Second Row: Lisa S., Beth, Hugh, Lisa F., Natalie Z., Nicole
Third Row: Colleen, Sarah, Arthur, Jennifer
Bottom Row: Keegan, Rose, Jacob