This page provides advice on the housing of laboratory dogs, tools for their welfare assessment, and suggestions for refinement of procedures used in safety assessment studies.
- Background on dog use and quality of science
- Refinement of the lifetime experience
- Welfare assessment
- Housing and exercise
- Training and procedures
- Related resources
Dogs (mainly purpose-bred beagles) are used in research primarily for safety, metabolic and pharmacokinetic assessment of new pharmaceuticals. Findings from dogs with compromised welfare may lead to unreliable conclusions as a result of reduced sensitivity, reliability or repeatability of data due to stress responses. Therefore it is scientifically important to be able to assess animal welfare, using robust welfare indicators, and to promote good welfare through refinement of housing, husbandry and procedures. Research staff should familiarise themselves with the literature supporting the link between good welfare and high quality data output, in order to reduce unwanted or uncontrolled variation, avoid floor or ceiling effects, and maximise the likelihood of detecting the effect under observation1,2.
There are many elements in the lifetime experience of the laboratory dog with the potential to compromise welfare, such as transport to a new facility, re-grouping, single-housing, changes in staff or the predictability of events, lack or loss of control, and performance of regulated procedures. However, there are also many opportunities to refine these aspects in order to build resilience and promote good welfare – examples are given in the table below.
Small, stable groups should be formed
Some form of positive reinforcement training should be incorporated to facilitate husbandry
Desensitisation and training specific to the regulated procedures should be carried out in the pre-study period
Staff should be familiar with the dynamics within home pen groups, in order to be able to change the groups if problems arise (e.g. aggression)
Particular attention should be paid to the quality of interactions during husbandry and health checks, as this forms the majority of staff contact
Technical staff responsible for carrying out regulated procedures should be present during training to ensure desensitisation to their presence
There should be sufficient choice within the home pen, e.g. platforms of different types, interconnecting pens, a variety of toys and other enrichment
Regular access to internal and external exercise areas may prove beneficial to physical health and welfare but should not be substituted for other recommended refinements in the home pen
If regular physical examinations or weighings are to be conducted in the same area as regulated procedures, then the same desensitisation protocol should be used
Restriction to single housing should be used only when there is absolutely no alternative; in such cases, visual and olfactory contact with other dogs should be maintained wherever possible
Increased visibility within the home pen will help to reduce allelomimetic barking
Rewarding calm, compliant behaviour during husbandry will facilitate training for specific procedures
Where study protocols require extended single housing, increased positive staff contact is likely to mitigate the negative effects
A separate area for regulated procedures is necessary to minimise disturbances and to prevent other dogs becoming distressed
Regular contact with assigned husbandry staff is more likely to promote good welfare than contact with unfamiliar staff
A tool for monitoring behaviour during restraint or procedures can identify dogs which are not desensitised and are exhibiting pseudo-habituation or high arousal
Detailed guidance on the refinement of laboratory dog husbandry, care and use, primarily based on expert opinion, is given in the comprehensive Joint Working Group on Refinement report3 (Prescott et al. 2004). This key resource emphasizes the need to take into account the social, physiological and ethological needs of the dog. For example, feral dogs in free-ranging packs tend to form small groups – where possible this grouping should be reflected in housing practices in the laboratory. Frequent changes to the group structure, or incompatible or very large groups of dogs, are commonly cited as increasing aggression in kennels4. The early rearing environment is critical for building resilience in dogs5,6. Every effort should be made to ensure the early rearing environment prepares research dogs for their future use, to ensure they are fit for purpose. This will include appropriate contact with other dogs, physical stimulation, and desensitisation to human handling3,7,8.
Even with such expert guidance, relatively few studies have been published on the response of dogs to different laboratory housing and husbandry systems, or on the optimal protocol for conducting regulated procedures. It is important for facilities to use a welfare assessment tool to monitor the impact of specific changes or refinements to current practice.
All staff involved with dog studies should be familiar with the behavioural signs of positive and negative welfare in dogs, and there should be a formal welfare monitoring system in place. Where behaviours indicative of negative welfare are observed, early intervention is required before welfare becomes compromised. Individual dogs identified as at risk of compromised welfare may require different treatment, such as increased positive interaction with staff, further positive reinforcement training, or changes to the group structure or home pen.
Examples of postitive welfare indicators. Clockwise from top left: resting (with head up or down), interacting with the environment (e.g. sniffing pen or objects), amicable social behaviour.
Examples of negative welfare indicators. Clockwise from top left: sitting alert, standing alert, standing against walls, paw lift, panting and lip smacking.
A welfare monitoring tool in the form of a checksheet has been developed and implemented in the UK2,9. It allows a single staff member to monitor the welfare of individual dogs throughout the day, over time and in a variety of contexts, and provides quantifiable data that are easily analysed. In addition, implementation of the tool means that staff and dogs come into frequent (and neutral) contact, allowing staff to become familiar with individual patterns of behaviour (crucial for identifying subtle changes while on study) and encourage habituation in the dogs. The tool involves scoring positive welfare indicators, such as high posture, resting and amicable social behaviour, and negative welfare indicators, such as low posture, prolonged vigilance and pacing. It is important that welfare-indicating behaviours are monitored throughout the day, as some negative welfare indicators will be exhibited transiently, but it is their prolonged display in the absence of stimuli such as feeding or other disturbances which is a cause for concern.
Visual signals, such as body postures and facial expressions, provide an indication of a dog's emotional state. They can also provide information about the dog's intended action in response to a situation or interaction with humans or other dogs.
positive welfare, including a relaxed, neutral
posture in combination with resting behaviours,
positive interactions with pen mates, and interest
in the environment. (Video clip includes an audio
Laboratory dogs spend the majority of their time in their pens. The normal behaviour of the dog, and the extent to which the pen might restrict such behaviour, should be considered at the design stage3. Pens should facilitate social group formation and interactions with other dogs and care staff. They should provide an open and light environment, give comprehensive sight of staff outside of their pen, and visual, olfactory and auditory contact with other dogs. Pens should also incorporate features stimulating to the occupants and provide an element of choice and control, which is important for animal welfare. Small cages are not suitable housing for dogs as they do not allow for performance of a wide range of normal behaviour.
Pens at this facility are linked in
pairs, with access to an outdoor
area. Pen subdivisions allow
complexity and choice. Raised
platforms offer visibility across the
room. Suspended chews are
provided as a means of
environmental enrichment. A dog
bed with fleecy bedding offers
a comfortable resting place.
Flexibility of pen design is
important. These dog pens are
designed to allow groups of dogs
to be housed together or
separated as necessary (e.g. for
feeding and post-dose
observations). The pop-holes
between pens can be opened to
provide additional space for the
dogs. Use of glass and raised
platforms give good visibility
outside of the pen.
Exercise provides physical and
mental stimulation, by allowing
dogs to explore their
surroundings. It also provides
socialise with other dogs and with
people. Exercise periods should
be provided, typically on a daily
basis, especially for dogs
housed in pens that do
not permit them to exercise
adequately. Exercise for dogs is
mandated in the US Animal
Welfare Act and routinely
provided in contract research
organisations in the UK.
Exercising should be carried out in a designated, specifically-designed area, rather than just the corridor outside the dogs' pens, because such an area provides a novel environment with wider scope for enrichment, increasing envrionmental stimulation and choice dramatically. Use of the exercise area should be maximised (i.e. using it in preference to leaving dogs housed in their pens).
Examples of indoor and outdoor exercise/activity areas for dogs, with enrichment equiment such as toys, chews, tunnels, raised platforms and ramps, a water spout, and child's sandpit filled with toys and soft shredded bedding (Enviro-dry®).
This video shows social play in an enriched,
indoor exercise area.
Human interaction is an unavoidable aspect of the laboratory environment, and as dogs have been selectively bred to seek out and enjoy human contact, effort should be made to ensure that staff contact is frequent and a positive experience. The beneficial effects of human interaction on dog behaviour and physiology are well documented (e.g. desirable changes in behaviour and responses to unfamiliar people or environments, blood pressure, heart rate and endocrine function)10. Periods of positive interaction between dogs and staff should be provided, to improve animal welfare, as a form of enrichment and to create a positive association with staff.
Positive reinforcement training (PRT) has been successfully implemented in a number of laboratory-housed species, with benefits shown for ease of husbandry and regulated procedures, animal welfare, staff time and quality of data output11,12,13. There is a wealth of literature available on the training of dogs using PRT14,15 and it is recommended that a nominated member of staff is familiar with the principles of PRT and is able to disseminate this knowledge consistently to research and animal care staff. Reviewing current habitation and training protocols to identify instances of positive and negative reinforcement may highlight areas in need of refinement. For example, where habituation protocols designed to decrease fear or undesirable behaviours in response to regulated procedures lead instead to pseudo-habituation (characterised by a “freeze” response and spontaneous recovery of the fear response) rather than desensitisation16.
This video shows a dog trained with PRT to sit
calmly on the table, thereby facilitating health
inspection. (Video clip includes an audio
The dog in this video has also been trained for
calm sitting on the table and shows fews signs of
negative welfare before and after oral dosing.
(Video clip includes an audio commentary)
Many dogs used in safety assessment studies will spend the majority of their lives in the breeding facility and in holding as stock animals, with only a short amount of time spent on study. It is important that their welfare is monitored and refinements implemented before studies commence and the occurrence of aversive events which may compromise welfare. Dogs held longer term, for example those re-used in DMPK studies, may require more careful selection and more intensive welfare monitoring and desensitisation. Specific recommendations for dogs held for different purposes are highlighted in the table below.
|Young/stock dogs||Dogs on short-term studies||Dogs held long-term for re-use, e.g. DMPK|
|Regular (positive) contact with a variety of staff should be implemented as soon as possible||Training specific to the study protocols will be necessary in the pre-study period (e.g. use of masks for inhalation, jacketed infusion/telemetry, slings)||Dogs which appear susceptible to negative welfare should not be selected for long-term use|
|A ‘table training’ protocol to train and maintain calm behaviour will be beneficial for husbandry and future study use||Desensitisation to staff responsible for husbandry and procedures||Facilities should have criteria specific to the intended use to ensure the dogs selected will be able to cope with all aspects of the study protocols|
|Early allocation to study groups will allow for greater acclimatisation in the pre-study phase||The duration and the nature of the procedures should be considered when allocating dogs||Dogs held for long periods may benefit from regular contact with a small group of staff, however the loss of a familiar staff member is likely to be distressing so contact with a single member of staff only is not recommended|
|Dogs held for long periods as stock should be given additional interventions (e.g. training, enrichment) to ensure that they remain suitable as study animals||Dogs susceptible to the effects of single housing or regulated procedures should not be allocated to long-duration studies as the impact on welfare is likely to be greater||The number and nature of regulated procedures should be closely monitored to prevent cumulative severity causing negative welfare in individual dogs|
|Dogs which demonstrate negative welfare in the home pen or do not respond to desensitisation and training should be allocated to non-recovery studies||A greater variety of enrichment opportunities will be necessary (e.g. dedicated exercise area, additional staff contact)|
|Hall et al. (2016) Refining dog care website|
|Prescott et al. (2004) Refining dog husbandry and care|
|Hall & Prescott (2021) Behavioral biology of dogs|
|Hall et al. (2015) Refining dosing by oral gavage in the dog: a protocol to harmonise welfare|
|Scullion Hall et al. (2016) The influence of facility and home pen design on the welfare of the laboratory-housed dog|
|Meunier LD (2006) Selection, acclimation, training, and preparation of dogs for the research setting|
- Poole T (1997). Happy animals make good science. Laboratory Animals 31, 116-124.
- Hall LE, Robinson S, Buchanan-Smith HM (2015). Refining dosing by oral gavage in the dog: a protocol to harmonise welfare. Journal of Pharmacological and Toxicological Methods 72, 35-46.
- Prescott MJ, Morton DB, Anderson D, Buckwell A, Heath S, Hubrecht R, Jennings M, Robb D, Ruane B, Swallow S, Thompson P (2004). Refining dog husbandry and care. Laboratory Animals 38(1), 1-94.
- Taylor K, Mills D (2007). The effect of the kennel environment on canine welfare: A critical review of experimental studies. Animal Welfare 16, 435-447.
- Fox M, Stelzner D (1966). Behavioural effects of differential early experience in the dog. Animal Behaviour 14, 273-281.
- Wilsson E, Sundgren P (1998). Behaviour test for eight-week old puppies - heritabilities of tested behaviour traits and its correspondence to later behaviour. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 58, 151-162.
- Meunier LD (2006). ￼Selection, acclimation, training, and preparation of dogs for the research setting. ILAR 47: 326-347.
- Jones A (2007). Sensory development in puppies (Canis lupus f. familiaris): Implications for improving canine welfare. Animal Welfare 16: 319-329.
- Hall LE, Robinson S, Buchanan-Smith HM (in prep). A welfare assessment framework for the laboratory-housed dog.
- Vormbrock JK, Grossberg JM (1988). Cardiovascular effects in human-pet dog interactions. Journal of Behavioral Medicine 11(5), 509-517.
- Laule GE, Bloomsmith MA, Schapiro SJ (2003). The use of positive reinforcement training techniques to enhance the care, management, and welfare of primates in the laboratory. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 6(3), 163-173.
- McKinley J, Buchanan-Smith HM, Bassett L, Morris K (2003). Training common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) to cooperate during routine laboratory procedures: ease of training and time investment. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 6(3), 209-20.
- Prescott M, Buchanan-Smith H (2003). Training nonhuman primates using positive reinforcement techniques. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 6(3), 157-161.
- Pryor K (2002). Don’t shoot the dog! The new art of teaching and training (3rd Edition). Lydney: Ringpress Books Ltd.
- Hiby EF, Rooney NJ, Bradshaw JWS (2004). Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare. Animal Welfare 13, 63-69.
- Ruys JD, Mendoza SP, Capitanio JP, Mason WA (2004). Behavioral and physiological adaptation to repeated chair restraint in rhesus macaques. Physiology and Behavior 82, 205–213
Last updated: September 2021.