Judging a Dog by Its Cover: Morphology but Not Training Influences Visitor Behavior toward Kenneled Dogs at Animal Shelters

Alexandra Protopopova, Clive D.L. Wynne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Currently, visitor behavior in companion animal shelters is not adequately explored. A sequence of experiments investigated how visitors interacted with kenneled dogs at an animal shelter and whether training dogs to not engage in undesirable behavior in their kennels would evoke more interest from shelter visitors. In a set of two experiments, two sides of an animal shelter were differentially entered into training phases in a multiple baseline design. During the training phase, dogs were trained to not engage in undesirable in-kennel behavior (i.e., to not be in the back of the kennel, to not face backwards, to not lean on kennel walls, and to not bark) through pairing of the visual presentation of the experimenters (experiment 1) and shelter visitors (experiment 2) with treats. Across both experiments, visitors attended to approximately 35% of kenneled dogs and only spent an average of 15 s looking at individual dogs. We found that whereas training was effective in decreasing undesirable behavior in dogs (experiment 1: U = 4.83, p < 0.0001; experiment 2: U = 4.01, p = 0.0001), only morphology influenced visitor behavior. In experiment 1, morphologically preferred dogs (i.e., puppies, long-coated dogs, small dogs, and certain breeds) had a 1.3 times higher frequency of visits to their kennel (F(1, 248) = 5.93, p < 0.05), and in experiment 2, these dogs had a 9 times higher frequency of being taken out of their kennel for further inspection (F(1, 69) = 4.66, p < 0.05), compared to other dogs. One reason for a lack of effect of training may be the relatively small number of visitors observed (n = 115 across both experiments). An alternative reason may be that shelter visitors pay more attention to the morphology rather than the lack of undesirable behavior of kenneled dogs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-487
Number of pages19
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


  • adoption
  • dog
  • dog training
  • overpopulation


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