Cortisol and behavioral responses to enrichment in military working dogs

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Our objective was to compare the effects of two schedules of enrichment exposure, a distributed (high frequency) and regular regime versus a mass (low frequency) and irregular regime, on the cortisol and behavioral responses of 14 kennelled military working dogs. The enrichment experiences were exercise coupled with human contact. Both groups of dogs were exposed to approximately the same total amount of enrichment per week for a total of 7 weeks. The distributed and regular regime (DRR) furnished enrichment for 20-min intervals three to four times a day every weekday; the mass and irregular regime (MIR) randomly furnished enrichment for 16 or 24 continuous hours 1 day out of 5. Our data show that: (1) cortisol concentrations of DRR dogs significantly decreased between the first and the last week of observations; this was not the case in MIR dogs; (2) at the 7th week DRR dogs had lower cortisol concentrations than did MIR dogs; (3) all dogs in each group exhibited stereotypies. Our results suggest that MIR dogs underwent a decline in welfare throughout the experiment, whereas DRR dogs appeared to undergo a period of acute stress at the beginning of their training that resolved over 7 weeks. This study suggests that the welfare of kennelled dogs, particularly military working dogs, is affected among other factors by schedules of exercise and contact with people.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-265
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Ethology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2009


  • Animal welfare
  • Behavior
  • Dog
  • Enrichment frequency
  • Exercise
  • Human contact
  • Hypothalamic- pituitary-adrenal axis


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