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ASU researcher finds ways to reduce stress in shelter dogs

About 30,000 people visit Utah's Best Friends Animal Sanctuary each year.
Shelter dog sleepover program reduces stress in dogs, ASU study shows.
Less stress means a shelter dog that can let its true personality show.
March 28, 2017

Doctoral candidate in Canine Science Collaboratory in the Department of Psychology examines sleepover program

“Who’s a good dog? You are, aren’t you? Yes, you’re the best dog that ever was.”

But is he really a good dog? Can you really tell when you’re doing a meet-and-greet in the shelter? Is that how he’s going to be when you take him home? Are you getting Lassie or the Hound of the Baskervilles?

These were the sorts of questions that led to a study done by an Arizona State University researcher.

Lisa Gunter, a doctoral candidate studying behavioral neuroscience at the Canine Science Collaboratory in the Department of Psychology, began the project as a pilot study at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, the largest no-kill shelter in the country. About 1,600 dogs and cats live there, visited by about 30,000 people per year. It’s a popular vacation destination for pet lovers. People come and take weeklong “volunteer vacations.”

Gunter looked at the sleepover program offered by Best Friends, where visitors can take a dog back to their hotel room for the night.

The question she had was this: Is their behavior on the sleepover predictive?

“We wanted to see how one night out of the shelter would impact the dogs,” Gunter said. “Is that what someone will see in their house? … That has been a challenge in sheltering.”

Gunter measured levels of cortisol, a diurnal hormone that is a measure of stress. She also took a behavioral snapshot of each dog, asking such questions as: What’s he like on a leash? What’s he like when he sees another dog? What’s he like when you come into his kennel?  

“We saw one night out significantly reduced their cortisol,” Gunter said. “When they returned the next day, it was the same. We knew it at least dropped for one night.”

Lowered stress levels could allow the dog to behave more naturally, giving people a better view of the dog's true personality.

The researchers took cortisol samples at three time points: the dog at the shelter, the dog at the sleepover and the dog back at the shelter.

“We’re trying to get more at the dog’s welfare, how they’re feeling on a larger timescale, not just 10 or 15 minutes,” Gunter said. “When we saw the cortisol had significantly reduced on just one overnight, that was pretty exciting. We didn’t imagine that just one night out would make a difference.”

Anecdotally, people who took a dog home for a sleepover reported that after the dog settled down, it would immediately go for a long sleep.

“Is sleep potentially a component to their welfare?” she said. “Getting good, uninterrupted sleep could benefit them as well. That could be one mechanism by which we’re seeing this reduction in cortisol. The dogs are getting a good night’s sleep. That’s something they can’t get at the shelter because they have a lot of noisy neighbors.”

Gunter has been carrying out the study in collaboration with a researcher at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. They were recently awarded a grant to carry out this study at four shelters across the U.S. Instead of a one-day baseline, they’ll be collecting a two-day sample.

Shelters are constantly looking for ways to get animals into homes.

“For a long time in sheltering it was thought dogs would be more adoptable if you just taught them to sit, if you just taught them to be well-behaved,” Gunter said. “That’s not necessarily the case. That’s not what our lab has found. There are behaviors related to companionship of people in a meet-and-greet setting when the person is getting to know the dog.”

They’ve found two behaviors that people respond to: when the dog lies down next to the person and whether the dog responded to an invitation to play.

“We’re a behavior and cognition lab, so we really try to understand what the animal is experiencing by looking at its behavior,” Gunter said. “Until the time we can have a conversation with them, for now we’re left with observing their behavior. We’re essentially detectives, trying to gather the information to have our best understanding of what the dog is experiencing. It’s the best we can do, without being dogs.”


Top photo: Lisa Gunter plays with her 11-year-old rescued border collie Sonya outside the Psychology building on ASU's Tempe campus. Gunter, a doctoral candidate studying behavioral neuroscience at the Canine Science Collaboratory in the Department of Psychology, found that shelter dogs benefit from sleepover programs like the one offered at at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, the nation's largest no-kill animal shelter. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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No 'magic model' to drive growth, ASU jobs guru finds

With the outlook improving, ASU jobs guru knows there's no 'magic model.'
How does your state's jobs rate rank? ASU center offers free data to compare.
Arizona is in top 10 for job creation for the first time since 2013.
ASU professor finds no effect from voter initiative raising state minimum wage.
New feature on ASU economic site shows fastest-growing industry in any state.
March 29, 2017

Lee McPheters oversees one of the most comprehensive employment databases in the nation — and information is available to all

After decades of analyzing data on jobs, Lee McPheters knows this: There is no “magic model” to boost employment.

McPheters is the director of the JPMorgan Chase Economic Outlook Center at Arizona State University and has been studying the federal jobs report every month for more than 30 years.

Everyone is always interested in jobs — and no more so than during the 2016 presidential election, when Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to restore jobs.

McPheters, a professor of economics in the W. P. Carey School Business, said the center avoids politics and sticks to the numbers, which paint a complicated picture.

Consider Arizona and California, next-door neighbors that are mirror images. The states have the same job-growth rateNon-agricultural jobs are not included in this statistic. of 2.6 percent.

“Look at California — high taxes, high regulation. And it’s a state that’s losing domestic population,” he said.

“And then you have Arizona, where we try to control taxes and regulation and are a top-five destination for people to move to. You have two different philosophies and yet these states are tied.

“There’s just a lot going on other than what you see on the surface.”

McPheters runs one of the nation’s most comprehensive databases on employment, called Job Growth USA, with statistics on all 50 states, 380 cities and 50 occupations. Some of the information goes back to 1941, when Arizona had 106,000 jobs.

Every month, McPheters and his staff crunch a fresh set of numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and keep their remarkable database up-to-the-minute accurate.

Want to know which metro area had the biggest increase in food-service jobs? Orlando, Florida — 11 percent more in February 2017 compared with last year.

Which metropolitan area just fell out of the top 10 for growth after six years? Denver.

And how is Arizona doing? In ninth place, our state moved into the top 10 for job creation in 2016 for the first time since 2013. Health care was the single largest source of growth, with 13,550 new jobs, 1 in 5 of the 68,000 jobs added in 2016 in Arizona.

McPheters’ latest report is good news for Arizona, which usually means a less intense focus on what he does. Everyone obsessed about jobs during the recession.

“When the economy is humming, people are not as concerned with what’s down because everything is up,” he said.

That’s where Arizona is right now.

“Growth is not as strong as we’ve seen in past recoveries, but we’re still a top-10 growth state,” he said. “We look at the parts of the economy that are doing well — health care, business and finance. That’s encouraging because those are knowledge-oriented jobs.”

McPheters has evaluated jobs data in the state and nation for more than 30 years.

And what about the minimum-wage increase? McPheters also evaluated the numbers for any effect from the voter initiative that raised the state’s minimum wage to $10 an hour in January, and found none.

“We looked at food-service job growth, since our analysis showed 75 percent of food-service workers would be affected,” he said. “Compared to past Januaries, this was the largest increase on record, with over 12,000 new food-service jobs added year on year.

“We’ll be watching this play out over the next few months, since this is the kind of state-wide laboratory experiment economists need to really understand the economy.”

The centerThe the JPMorgan Chase Economic Outlook Center is part of the Seidman Research Institute, a self-supporting unit in the W. P. Carey School of Business. just added a new feature to the site that shows the fastest-growing industry within any state, by percentage and numbers. In California, the job category “support activities for water transportation” was up 17 percent.

McPheters has seen the tiny ticks up and down every month over the years, and this makes him wary of big jumps.

“During the energy boom, North Dakota became the number one job-growth state, and we just knew that wasn’t going to last,” he said. “Fracking was a new industry. But the question was, is it sustainable? And it wasn’t. North Dakota is now losing jobsNorth Dakota was the top job-growth state from 2009 to 2014, and it was 50th in 2015 and 2016. The states losing jobs in the February 2017 report were Alaska, Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming..”

Besides Job Growth USA, the center also provides the Western Blue Chip Economic Forecast, on 12 Western states, and the Greater Phoenix Blue Chip Forecast. Both of those go beyond jobs, with information on retail sales, construction and wages. McPheters gives about 30 economic-forecast presentations a year for local businesses, government agencies and organizations.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the center published its reports on paper and sold subscriptions, which brought in about $50,000 a year.

“But we saw the writing on the wall that information wants to be free,” he said, and now the database on the website is available to anyone.

McPheters said the center’s work is significant because people love to compare states.

“I’ve found that having the rankings as an indicator of economic conditions is something people can really understand,” he said.

“It’s an important contribution to understanding the health of Arizona and other states.”


Top photo: Lee McPheters, director of the JPMorgan Chase Economic Outlook Center at Arizona State University (in his Tempe office Wednesday), said the center avoids politics and sticks to the jobs numbers, which paint a complicated picture. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now