Exercise to Reduce Stress in Dogs. Part 2

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Last week, I wrote about the Italian research study that showed how daily exercise can reduce stress levels in shelter dogs. This week, I will examine the implications and possible cost savings from implementing a regular shelter exercise program.


In the U.S., somewhere near 8 million dogs and cats enter shelters during a year, and about ½ of these, or 4 million are euthanized each year. Although this number is much lower than what it was some 30 years ago, it is still way too high. The cost can be expressed not only in terms of the lives of these animals, but also in terms of the financial cost of intake, housing, and euthanasia costs directly.


Exercising Dogs to Reduce Stress- Implications for Animal Shelters and Rescues

Any animal shelter could use the Italian research to improve the outcomes of their shelter animals. By using exercise to keep the stress levels of their dogs low, they are also increasing the odds that the dogs will be better behaved. In turn, this can only increase the chances that the dogs will be adopted more quickly. Thus, it seems to me that shelters and rescues should look to set up canine exercise programs, along with proper record keeping and data collection, if they don’t already have one in place. This could be accomplished in several ways.


shelter pets

  • Have at least one staff member in charge of the exercise program and be responsible for educating themselves on the different exercise modalities and safety tips.
  • Make a targeted effort to recruit volunteers that will be willing to donate their time in the form of dog walking/exercise. This is a great option for local community members to contribute something of high value in lieu of money.
  • Create a measurement process to collect actual data on the effect of the program. Nothing fancy here, but rather a simple record keeping system that documents observed behavior changes and time to adoption statistics, recidivism rates, etc., on dogs that are in the program. This data can be used to learn and reinforce approaches that are successful, be used to calculate the monetary (cost) savings of quicker adoptions, and perhaps even be used as the basis for additional funding and grants.


Estimated Benefits from Implementing a Shelter Exercise Program

With proper exercise, shelter pets are more likely to be adopted, and adopted more quickly. This means a reduced euthanasia rate, a reduced return rate, and a lower cost of housing the pets (since their stay at the shelter is shorter). I did some back of the envelope calculations to see what the impact could be on both the lives of the pets as well as the financial cost to taxpayers.


Dog Lives Saved

By lowering the stress in a shelter dog, we are also improving the chances that a dog will be adopted into their forever home. If regular exercise can reduce the euthanasia rate by just 10%, then we could save around 200,000 dogs each year from being killed.


Cost Savings

If the estimate above is not enough to convince you that a shelter exercise program is worthwhile, then consider the possible financial impact. Assuming that it costs an average of $5 per day to feed and house a dog, that an exercised dog would be adopted on average 7 days quicker than a stressed out dog, and that the cost of euthanasia is $100, I estimate that we could save $90 million a year in the U.S. simply by ensuring that the shelter dogs are exercised each day. That’s a lot of money to go with a lot of lives saved.


All of this research and calculations leads me to believe that our communities need to start implementing and tracking shelter exercise programs. I know that many people are looking for non-financial ways to help out and volunteering to exercise a shelter pet is a great way to do so.   The entrepreneur in me is also starting to envision an application that could be created to help the shelters manage and track the results of these type of programs. Imagine if there was a way to collect and aggregate data across the thousands of shelters across the country, so that the actual benefits could be quantified and best practices could be validated across a large sample size? Could this data, in turn, be used to support additional government grants as well as private donations? Might be worth investigating further…


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  1. At the last SPARCS conference, they told us about a study they did in shelter dogs measuring the cortisol levels. Dogs were found to be much calmer if someone sat and read to them versus being exercised. The study is still being worked on and isn’t published yet but it should be available soon.
    Lauren Miller (ZoePhee) recently posted…Skin Infection Woes. Dog GroomingMy Profile

  2. Hi Y’all!

    They’re calling for temps in the triple digits (Fahrenheit) here, deep in the southeast, this week. Nothing but walkin’ for me and my Human.

    Y’all come on by,
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…Parading my fitness and enjoying my beautiful worldMy Profile

  3. So so very true!!! Most times when you enter a shelter these dogs are all barking and jumping around like mad. Obviously due to the fact that they are locked up, with (probably) minimal exercise!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…My Husky Stole My Lounge Chair!My Profile

  4. Seems like this could be a really great program all around to implement and could result in healthier pups and higher adoption rates.

  5. Sounds like a win win situation. It’s sad the numbers of pets euthanized each year when just a little walk could relieve some stress to make them better pets.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…A Chessie’s Determination~ObstaclesMy Profile

  6. There used to be a shelter about 15 mins from us. Mom was thinking of going there to walk or run dogs, but then it closed and the nearest shelter is almost 45 mins away from here, so it really doesn’t work for her to do that. If we ever get a shelter nearby again, I think she will volunteer to workout dogs.
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  7. You make a very convincing case. And by getting volunteers to walk the dogs the shelters are reaching out to the community for involvement.
    jan recently posted…The most misused words in the English languageMy Profile

  8. We agree. At the end of the day, a tired dog is a happy dog!

    Earl Lover recently posted…Tips For Exercising Your Dog In The HeatMy Profile

  9. We love walking. Several of our shelters have walking volunteer programs and even kids’ training camps that are very successful on a small scale.
    Kilo actually gets stressed with strangers or near other dogs or parks. He would not have done well in a shelter or in a walking program. However, many dogs appear to benefit greatly from the exercise and company. Have a great weekend! X Susie

  10. Wow, those numbers are staggering! Thanks for (yet) another terrific and informational post. Here’s to a great weekend. 🙂
    Monika recently posted…Doglish 101 – June 11, 2015My Profile

  11. I took the boys for a hike the other day with one of their furry friends. They had so much fun, I would love to start a walking group this summer a few days a week. Explore new territory with new furrends.
    Groovy Goldendoodles recently posted…THE VARIOUS COAT TYPES OF THE GOLDENDOODLEMy Profile

  12. Some interesting numbers…. sure looks like a great case for more exercise for shelter dogs.
    Diane recently posted…Hiking Tumbling Waters Trail With DogsMy Profile

  13. I think the humane society’s dogs definitely get walked every day. They have an abundance of volunteers. Not sure about the shelter though. They have less money, fewer volunteers and they’re out in the burbs.

  14. What an amazing idea! I will have to share this with our local shelter! It is about 25 minutes away, so I don’t get there to volunteer NEARLY as often as I’d like to. But I used to work there, and while we had tons of volunteers, they all wanted to walk the smaller, “cute” dogs – the dogs that needed more exercise, like hyper labs or pitties, weren’t getting enough. A program like this would be awesome!
    Chelsea Price recently posted…“Designer Dogs”…or Mutts?My Profile

  15. This is great information. I exercised dog is most definitely a calm and happy dog. When Charlie was little, I wouldn’t let people come over without having exercised his properly first. He just was not in control of his body and brain without that exercise. This would be a phenomenal idea for all dogs in shelters and I love your suggestions for really evaluating the effectiveness!
    MyDogLikes recently posted…Ex-Squeezz-Me: Kong Squeezz Ring & RopeMy Profile

  16. Your idea sounds like a win-win for sure! Proper, daily, breed-specific exercise is SO important ~ I constantly preach it.

  17. Great idea!!! I also think it’s something that should be considered by trainers when they are helping with a very fearful (stressed) dog. I believe that Shyla’s daily runs help her to cope with the fear-provoking things in everyday life much better.

    I love the idea about shelters.
    KB recently posted…Happy SaturdayMy Profile

  18. What a great idea. I wonder if you could approach your local shelter with those statistics and ask them to implement your idea for a trial period and document the results. Once you had someone who had actually done this, perhaps it would be something that could be forwarded to other shelters.
    Jodi recently posted…You Make Me Smile – June 14, 2015My Profile

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