Date Published: July 25, 2017
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Dorothea Döring, Ophelia Nick, Alexander Bauer, Helmut Küchenhoff, Michael H. Erhard, I Anna S Olsson.
When laboratory dogs are rehomed into private households, they experience an extreme change in their life situation. They leave their familiar, limited environment in the research facility and encounter a multitude of animate and inanimate stimuli in their new home. Although literature reports have described the experiences with rehoming as being mostly positive, scientific observations of the dogs in everyday situations have not been done. Hence, we conducted an observational test with 74 laboratory beagles 6 weeks after adoption in their new homes. This test included standardized tasks and elements; the dogs were observed during specific interactions with their new owners and during a walk. Furthermore, the owners of these 74 and of 71 additional dogs participated in standardized phone interviews 1 and 12 weeks after adoption, during which they answered questions about the dogs’ behavior in everyday situations. In the observational test, the dogs behaved mostly friendly towards humans and dogs, were tolerant during manipulations by the owner and were relaxed during the walk, even in traffic. Eighty percent (of n = 71) of the dogs walked well behaved on the leash without pulling. According to the interviews, the majority of the dogs showed desired, friendly and relaxed behavior, and the survey results reflected the bonding between dog and owner. The analysis of a possible influence of various factors (age, sex, origin, etc.) using mixed regression models confirmed the results from two previous behavior tests and interviews. Specifically, dogs that had been bred in the research facility scored significantly better than dogs that the research facility had purchased from commercial laboratory dog breeders (p = 0.0113). The results of this study demonstrate a successful adaptation of the rehomed beagles to their new life situation.
In light of the significant public interest in the fate of laboratory dogs, their rehoming into private households should be enabled . In Germany, many companies and universities have been facilitating such rehoming for many years, and reports indicated mostly positive experiences with this process . The German Animal Welfare Act  declares the killing of vertebrates “without sound reason” a punishable offense. According to the lawyers Lorz and Metzger , a “sound reason” for killing can exist when surplus laboratory animals cannot be placed with qualified and sensible persons. As rehoming practice in Germany shows that appropriate new owners can be found and that the dogs seem to adapt easily , no sound reason exists to euthanize surplus or post-experimental laboratory dogs unless they would experience pain and suffering if kept alive. From a moral standpoint, humans have an ethical obligation to provide healthy animals with appropriate living conditions.
In the observational test, the dogs showed mostly relaxed and desired behaviors. We see these results as very positive because they demonstrate a high adaptive capacity of the rehomed laboratory dogs. Results from the interviews with the new owners also reflected the dogs’ adaptation to everyday life and their emotional bonding with their owners (more dogs that enjoyed petting and that sought contact with the owners were reported in Interview 2 than in Interview 1). Furthermore, this bonding may explain why the dogs were seeking less contact with the test person in the observational test in the new home than in the behavior test conducted in the research facility before rehoming. Other explanations may be that the dogs in the research facility were under-stimulated and therefore more interested in contact with humans or that the test person was not interesting to the dogs when she mimicked a visitor in the observational test because she was no longer a stranger to the dogs and had been gone for only a short moment.
The majority of the dogs proved to be well adapted to their new life situation as determined in the observational test 6 weeks and in the interviews 1 and 12 weeks after rehoming. The results demonstrated good bonding between dog and new owner. For many of the parameters, the assessments from the observational test showed correlations with those from the preceding behavior tests and from the interviews. The analysis of influencing factors confirmed the results from the analyses of the behavior tests and the interviews by Döring et al. . The development of separation problems could not be predicted by the preceding behavior tests or the interviews.
Based on the results of this study, with consideration of data from Döring et al. , we make the following recommendations: