For dogs in shelters, a playtime and a soft voice can go a long way, a new study says. Researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia found that, given a few minutes of human contact daily and a toy, shelter dogs showed fewer signs of fear.
When dogs come to shelters in Victoria, Australia, as a safety measure they're quarantined for eight days -- often kept out of sight of other dogs. To see if human contact could help keep the isolated animals less afraid, a veterinarian offered 90 dogs a toy, spoke softly to them and held out her hand if the dogs approached.
Compared with dogs who received only normal husbandry and shelter care, the comforted dogs were less likely to shy away from humans -- even though each play session lasted only two minutes. Giving dogs "additional positive human contact," the authors write, reduces "the behavioral fear response of dogs to humans."
And it's not just scientists or vets who are able to put rescue animals at ease -- shelters often seek volunteers to walk or play with dogs to keep them fit, active and more adoptable. In fact, for people such as seniors, one study found it's healthier to go for a stroll with a shelter dog: Seniors who walked with dogs moved faster and with more confidence than if they went for a jaunt with a human friend.