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EUTHANASIA: Also called mercy killing is the act of putting to death painlessly or allowing to die, as by withholding extreme medical measures, a person or animal suffering from an incurable, esp. a painful, disease or medical condition. The act of abolishing life in the healthy, without consent, for any reason, cannot be called Euthanasia.
The Animal Rescue Site

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Dogs Going Mad In Kennels

If this does not arouse a person's conscience into taking immediate action to confront the powers that are allowing this mad war on dogs and cats to continue, what will?

Healthy dogs confined in Kill and also No-Kill shelter kennels, anticipating their impending death or prolonged confinement in cages, literally go mad because of the emotional, psychological and spiritual stress they are under. We don't need researchers to tell us that being imprisoned increases stress.

Most people are told by their religious leaders that animals do not have souls. This is not only a fallacy but also total self aggrandization. Animals have a soul. A group soul, which is shared in common with all members of the species. They do not have an individualized ego like most humans do. But never-the -less, they have a soul and a spirit and do experience pain and suffering.

Please replace the word euthanize with "kill" every time you see it in this research paper. This type of (moral) research is also often opportunistically cited by kill-animal shelters in justification of their amoral kill philosophy.

Careless breeders (of all types) who continue to breed recklessly and discard kittens and puppies, cities and counties who do not promote and pursue aggressive spay and neuter programs, but instead continue to kill, should be held responsible for this carnage; a destruction of not only animals but of the essential selves of the men and women who work at kill-shelters.

One shelter member told me that the staff is psychologically and emotionally traumatized, especially during pre-kill nights when they have to decide which (even healthy) dog or cat is going to have its life ended the next day.

At the Johnson City Animal Shelter, healthy older dogs are killed by the staff by other (at most shelters, usually by bullets or carbon monoxide poisoning) means rather than by lethal injection, because the local veterinarians and the population are unwilling to "contribute towards " or "gift" a humane end to these unfortunates. The shelter is always short on funds.

“Kennel Crazy” Behavior in Shelter Dogs: Causes and Solutions

Shawn Mathiesen
American College of Applied Science


Animal shelter workers frequently describe dogs that have gone “kennel crazy” from being in a shelter too long. The dogs become uncontrollable and un-adoptable and are inevitably euthanized. The behavior symptoms in anecdotal descriptions of “kennel crazy” appear similar to the symptoms of stress induced canine compulsive behavior disorders. Shelter dogs are subjected to many stresses such as confinement, noise, and social isolation. “Kennel crazy” may be a compulsive behavior disorder resulting from chronic stress experienced in the shelter environment. Breeders and researchers recognize that certain breeds, sizes, and genders handle stress in different ways and may be predisposed to compulsive behavior disorders. If we dismiss “kennel crazy” as something that inevitably happens to dogs that stay too long in shelters, it will continue to occur and dogs will continue to be euthanized for it. If we recognize “kennel crazy” as a compulsive behavior disorder, and recognize that certain dogs are predisposed to it, shelter workers may be able to use early intervention and treatment to avoid “kennel crazy” behavior and subsequent euthanasia.


A few weeks after I began walking dogs as a volunteer at my local Humane Society, I witnessed the bizarre behavior I later came to know as “kennel crazy”. Two big, fluffy, bouncy, goofy, lovable dogs were dropped off together at the shelter. Initially difficult to walk and control due to lack of leash training and sheer size, they grew more uncontrollable as the weeks passed. After six weeks in the shelter, they started to display aggression towards people and other dogs, bounced constantly in their kennels, and eventually began to bang themselves against the kennel walls. When the dogs became aggressive towards the shelter staff they were euthanized. The shelter staff explained that some dogs just go kennel crazy and there is nothing you can do about it. The tragic fate of those two big goofy dogs deeply affected me. This paper is an attempt to understand what happened to them, and how we can help other dogs avoid that fate.

Anecdotal Descriptions of “Kennel Crazy” Behavior

The term “kennel crazy” is a colloquial term used in animal rescue and shelter environments. I could find no reference to it in professional publications. For the purpose of understanding the behavior described by shelter and rescue workers and equating it to a behavior that we can prevent and treat, I gathered anecdotal descriptions from websites and from a survey I mailed to Maryland animal shelters. The survey questions and the responses to the survey are included in Appendices A and B. Animal shelter and rescue websites provide numerous anecdotal descriptions of seemingly normal dogs going “kennel crazy” after a prolonged stay in the shelter. A few samples are included below. The symptoms they describe include repetitive non-functional (stereotypic) behavior often accompanied by self-injurious, and/or aggressive behavior.


“A kennel crazy dog just spins and spins in its run and can't stop” (Jill, a San Francisco, CA SPCA dog trainer).

“They begin to display "kennel crazy" behaviors: spinning, chewing on the chain link, self- mutilation, lack of appetite and energy to name a few” (Mary Martin, clinic manager of Maricopa County Animal Control Care and Control in Arizona).

“They end up going kennel crazy, in which they run around in circles barking at things that aren't there” (Melissa Senn, staff member at Inland Valley Humane Society, in Pomona, CA).

“Some go kennel crazy, spinning in circles, chewing on their paws, pacing repetitively” (Dineen Heard, public relations director at the Town Lake Animal Center in Austin, TX).

Responses to the survey I mailed to Maryland animal shelters likewise described “kennel crazy” behavior as agitation, aggression, pacing, spinning, chewing and biting on their tail, anxious, jumping, constant barking, protective/possessive of their kennel, constant digging on the cement floor, and bouncing from wall to wall.

While the behavior symptoms in anecdotal descriptions have a common theme, the length of time in the shelter prior to the onset of the behavior does not. Shelter and rescue websites typically use the terms “too long”, or “after many months”. Of the nine responses to my survey, five said the length of stay prior to symptoms varied with no pattern, while others said one to two months or longer”, three to six months, four months, or six weeks or longer.

Many of the descriptions and survey responses said that any dog may go “kennel crazy”, however four of the nine survey responses indicated that high energy, intelligent dogs, such as the working and herding breeds are more likely to succumb. The Great Lakes Border Collie Rescue and the Mokan Border Collie rescue websites both indicated that border collies do not do well in the shelter environment and are susceptible to becoming “kennel crazy”. A Dalmation rescue website said the same of Dalmations.

Stress Reactions in Animals

When humans are faced with a difficult physical (e.g. loud noise) or psychological (e.g., isolation) situations they cannot control, they experience stress. Prolonged exposure to stress causes detrimental physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes (Coppola, Enns, and Grandin, 2006). One of the physical changes commonly associated with prolonged exposure to stress is an increased level of a hormone called cortisol. Dogs, like humans, show increased cortisol levels after exposure to stressful situations (Beerda et al., 1997). Studies of dogs in animal shelters showed significant increases in the dogs’ cortisol levels after entering the shelter (Coppola, Grandin, an Enns, 2005). Neuroscientists at Harvard Medical School conducted a study proving that chronic exposure to increased cortisol levels in mice led to anxious, fearful behavior (APA Press Release, April 16, 2006). Psychological stress is manifested in conspicuous changes in an animal’s behavior. “The species-typical repertoire becomes less diverse, certain behavior patterns occur more frequently while others are performed in a stereotypical manner” (Roberts, 2006). Performance of stereotypic behaviors in dogs is considered an indicator of prolonged exposure to stress (Beerda et al., 1997). Self-injurious behavior and defensive aggression in caged animals are seen as signs that the animal is unable to adapt to the psychological stress of its environment (Roberts, 2006).

Stress in the shelter environment

Dogs in animal shelters are exposed to constant physical and psychological stress. Prolonged exposure to loud noise causes stress in animals (Coppola, Enns, and Grandin, 2006). The noise level from barking in dog kennels regularly exceeds 100dB (Sales, 1997), well above safe recommended levels. For dogs, who are more sensitive to sound than humans, and unable to escape the noise of the kennel environment, noise is a significant cause of stress. It is interesting to note that one response to the survey stated that deaf dogs usually handle the shelter environment better than others. Social isolation is a major cause of stress for a social species (Coppola, Grandin, and Enns, 2005). The typical animal shelter confines dogs in kennels and provides limited or no opportunity for physical and social contact with other dogs or humans. Denying dogs contact with other dogs is known to result in behaviors such as withdrawal, inactivity, stereotypy, and barking (Wells, 2004). Aggression towards other dogs is also thought to be a result of social isolation (Mertens & Unshelm, 1996). Dogs in shelters are also stressed by the inability to control their environment. They are constantly presented with intensely interesting stimuli (other dogs, people, activity), and constantly prevented from exploring and interacting with these stimuli. Jean Donaldson, Director of the San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers refers to this type of stress as “barrier frustration”. Faced with constant, daily psychological stress, it is not surprising that some shelter dogs will develop stress induced behavior problems.

Compulsive behaviors in dogs

Researchers now recognize that companion animals, like humans, may develop compulsive behavior disorders. A compulsive behavior is one that is performed out of context, exaggerated, and/or constantly repeated, and is thought to be an expression of stress, frustration, and/or conflict (Luescher, 2000). Dogs who display separation anxiety, excessive neediness, or dominance aggression often develop compulsive behaviors, as do zoo and other captive animals (Overall, 2002). In his article “Compulsive Behavior in Companion Animals”, A. Luescher (2000) describes the following examples of compulsive behaviors:


Locomotion: Circling, tail chasing, pacing, jumping in place, freezing, dashing off, sudden agitation, skin ripple

Oral: Chewing legs or feet, self licking, air or nose licking, flank sucking, scratching, chewing or licking objects

Aggression: Self directed aggression, attacking inanimate objects, unpredictable aggression to people

Vocalization: Rhythmic barking, persistent howling

Hallucination: Avoiding imaginary objects, staring at shadows, startling

All of the behaviors listed in the anecdotal and survey response descriptions of “kennel crazy” behavior are included in Luescher’s examples. Both “kennel crazy” and compulsive disorders occur in confined animals faced with long-term stress and frustration. It seems reasonable then, to conclude that “kennel crazy” behavior is actually a compulsive behavior disorder brought on by the stress and frustration of a shelter environment. Veterinary researchers recognize that compulsive behavior disorders in companion animals are similar in their pathology to compulsive behavior disorders in humans. Recognition of this similarity has enabled veterinary researchers to develop both behavior modification and drug treatments for companion animals (Luescher, 2000). If we view “kennel crazy” as a compulsive behavior disorder, we can explore its prevention and treatment.

Predisposing factors


Certain breeds of dogs are more likely to develop a compulsive behavior disorder if the environment is conducive to it. German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, English Bull Terriers, Miniature Schnauzers, and large breed dogs in general are among those predisposed to compulsive disorders (Luescher, 2000). Herding, working, and guarding breeds also exhibit a higher incidence of compulsive behavior disorders (Overall, 2002). The higher incidence in working, herding, and guarding breeds is consistent with the survey responses and comments found on breed rescue sites. A Danish study (Lund, Agger, and Vestergaard, 1995) found Collies, Poodles, and Fox Terriers more likely to have problems related to anxiety, while Dachshunds and mixed breeds were least likely to have behavior problems.

Length of stay in the shelter:

The length of time in the shelter cannot be used to predict the onset of compulsive disorders. A study of dogs in a UK shelter found that there was no direct correlation between the length of time in the shelter and the onset of stereotypic, aggressive, or self-injurious behavior (Wells, Graham, and Hepper, 2002). This finding is consistent with the survey responses and anecdotal descriptions of “kennel crazy” behavior.

The following statistics are based on a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania Behavior Clinic (Overall, 2002):


The majority of the dogs (a 2:1 ratio) who developed compulsive behavior disorders were male (a study by Wright and Nesselrote in 1987 also concluded that young male dogs are more likely to exhibit behavior problems, especially problems involving aggression).


The average age for the onset of compulsive behavior disorders in dogs was 20.3 months.

Prior behavior issues:

74.8 percent of the dogs with compulsive behavior disorders had a prior history of behavior issues such as separation anxiety or attention seeking behavior. This is consistent with the survey responses that listed owned dogs (i.e., dogs surrendered to a shelter by their owners) as more likely to go “kennel crazy”. Behavior problems are one of the most common reasons owners surrender dogs to kennels, so it is likely that an owned dog had prior behavior issues.

Based on these findings, we might conclude that adolescent male dogs from working, guarding, or herding breeds, who were surrendered by their owners or have a known history of behavior problems, are more likely to succumb to compulsive behavior disorders while in the shelter environment.

Prevention and treatment

Quick adoption or placement in a foster home is the best way to prevent the onset of compulsive behavior, but in many rural, high volume, or no-kill shelters, a stay of weeks or months is unavoidable. If the stress and frustration of the shelter environment can trigger compulsive behavior disorder in at-risk dogs, then extra efforts to reduce stress and frustration for at-risk dogs might help to prevent the onset of the disorder. Social isolation is the greatest cause of stress for dogs in a shelter and has been proven to significantly raise cortisol levels in dogs. Daily human contact sessions of 45 minutes have been shown to reduce cortisol levels in dogs (Coppola, Grandin, and Enns, 2005). A study comparing the benefits of animate and inanimate environmental enrichment for shelter dogs found that “The provision of social contacts, both with other dogs and humans, is absolutely essential and should be considered the most important form of environmental enrichment for confined canids (Wells, 2004).” Housing dogs in groups and/or providing daily group play sessions has been shown to reduce stress related behaviors such as aggression and constant barking (Mertens and Unshelm, 1996). Barking noise, a known cause of stress in shelter dogs, is also reduced by group play and group housing (Coppola, Enns, and Grandin, 2006). Given the stress reducing benefits of social interaction, dogs that fit the criteria for a predisposition to compulsive behavior disorders should be “hot listed” by shelters as requiring additional and longer daily social interactions sessions, at least with humans and if possible with other dogs. Two of the shelters responding to my survey proactively monitor at-risk dogs and place them in training, play, and other enrichment programs.

Treatment for compulsive behavior disorders consists of environmental and behavior modification, and drug therapy (Luescher, 2000). Environmental modification consists of removing the sources of stress. Any dog displaying a compulsive behavior should immediately be moved into the same type of program used in prevention. Unfortunately, a shelter that does not have the resources for a prevention program is not likely to have the resources to remove the sources of environmental stress after the onset of a compulsive behavior disorder. Behavior modification involves initiating an alternative activity that is incompatible with the problem behavior. With constant supervision, a caring and dedicated dog owner may be able to successfully use behavior modification to control or eliminate a compulsive behavior. Few shelters have sufficient staff or volunteers to provide the supervision necessary for a behavior modification program.

Drug therapy for canine compulsive behavior disorders is similar to that used in humans and focuses on normalizing the serotonin and dopamine levels using clomipramine type drugs (e.g., Clomicalm and Novartis) (Luescher, 2000). To be successful, drug therapy should be combined with behavior and environmental modification.


Going “kennel crazy” is not an unavoidable fate for dogs stuck in shelters for prolonged periods. It is a compulsive behavior disorder brought on by the stress of confinement, noise, and social isolation, combined with a gender, age, and genetic predisposition. Social isolation is the greatest cause of stress for dogs in a shelter. Increased social interaction with humans and other dogs can significantly reduce stress. Where quick adoption or placement in a foster home is not possible, increased social interaction and environmental enrichment for at-risk dogs may prevent the onset of compulsive behavior disorders. The resources required for treatment of compulsive behavior disorders exceed those required for prevention, and are difficult to provide in a shelter environment. For many shelters, treatment for compulsive behavior disorders may not be feasible, leaving euthanasia as their only option when prevention is not available or fails. Prevention is therefore the best means of reducing the number of dogs euthanized for compulsive behavior disorders. Some shelters have established successful prevention programs of social and environmental enrichment. These shelters should be studied to quantify the benefits of their prevention programs and to understand how they were able to fund, implement, and maintain their programs. A model program could then be developed and promoted to other shelters. Successful shelters could also work with other shelters to help them implement their own prevention programs. Once implemented these programs may save the lives of some future big, goofy, lovable, high-energy dogs.

Appendix A

The following survey was sent to 24 Maryland animal shelters. Nine shelters responded. The responses are included in Appendix B.


I am a volunteer at Kent County Humane Society in Kent County, Maryland, and a student in Canine Behavior Counseling at the American College of Applied Science. For a class research topic I am researching the behavior known to shelter workers as “kennel crazy”. The goal of my research is to better understand and possibly predict and/or prevent the “kennel crazy” syndrome.

Please, could you take a few moments to answer the following survey about “kennel crazy” behavior and return it in the envelope provided? If you have any added comments, please write them on the back of this page. Thank you in advance for your time and effort.

Shawn Mathiesen


How many times have you seen a dog go “kennel crazy”?

__ never If at least once, please answer the remaining questions.
__ once or twice
__ 3 to 10 times
__ too many times to count


How would you describe “kennel crazy” behavior?


How long were the dogs in the shelter before the behavior started?
__ less than a week
__ a week to a month
__ 1 to 2 months
__ 3 to 6 months
__ more than 6 months
__ varies – no typical pattern


Have you noticed any commonalities in the breed, size, disposition, background, or other characteristics of dogs that exhibited this behavior?


How do you handle “kennel crazy” dogs and what usually happens to them?

Appendix B

Compilation of Survey Responses

Shelter name and description

How many instances?

Description of behavior?

How long in the shelter?


How do you handle it?

Hartford Co. MD Humane Society - small rural shelter

3 to 10

Pronounced agitation towards routine, aggression and agitation towards kennel mate, dogs in other kennels, staff, and visitors.


More likely in high energy, very driven dogs

To prevent, all dogs are monitored. Each staffer has a project pet. These are often the dogs more likely to head in this direction if allowed. We also have an enrichment team. Dogs are put on training and/or play programs, given interactive toys, allowed to dig in our digging pool, follow scents, etc.

Frederick Co. MD Animal Control - medium rural shelter

3 to 10 (over 3 years)

Pacing, chewing on self, spinning, anxious (all above and beyond normal kennel stress)

4 months

More frequently German Shepherds, working breeds, and previously owned dogs.

If foster or rescue unavailable, euthanized.

Queen Annes Co. MD Animal Control - small rural/suburban shelter

too many to count

Glazed over or red eyes, excessive jumping, barking constantly, can become aggressive.


No - can happen to any breed.

Try to place in foster home or euthanize.

Washington D.C. Humane Society - large urban shelter

too many to count

Anxiety, frustration, obsessive compulsive disorder, lack of self control


Have observed in most every breed. Aloof breeds and deaf dogs handle shelter stay better.

Some sent to foster/rescue. Some make improvement with training and wellness programs.

Charles Co. MD Humane Society - small rural shelter

3 to 10

Constant pacing, digging on concrete to get out, bouncing from wall to wall, territorial aggression, chewing/biting tail.



Give more attention, extra walks, time in the office area with employees, or find foster home. If not successful, euthanize.

Howard Co. MD Animal Control - small suburban shelter

3 to 10

Extremely agitated and excited, cage fight with other dogs, try to bolt from their kennel. May bite at the leash and lunge at people when they try to put them back in their pen.

1 to 2 months or longer

Tends to occur more in high energy, intelligent dogs that crave olts of activity and interaction.

Try to prevent by (a) adopting out in timely fashion and evaluating before putting in adoption kennel (b) exercised in a large outdoor area and walked as much as possible by volunteers (c) Provide enrichment beds, toys, treats (d) Adopt out unusually long stay dogs to rescue groups. If prevention fails, then euthanasia.

Carroll Co. MD Humane Society - small rural shelter

seldom see due to short stay in kennel before adoption (rarely stay more than a month or two)

Obsessive circling in kennel, appears hyperactive, may bark constantly, easily over stimulated, possessive of kennel area.

3 to 6 months

The more active the dog/breed the sooner they succumb.

Believe it is more humane to euthanize unadoptable dogs than to warehouse them for more than a month or two.

Anne Arundel Co. MD Animal Control - large urban/suburban shelter

3 to 10 times per month

Personality changes to anxious, aggressive, possessive, protective of staff, unpredictable, pacing in kennel run.


More typical to owned animals otherwise no.


Kent Co. MD Humane Society - small rural shelter

1 or 2 times a year

Bouncing off kennel walls, aggressive, uncontrollable.

6 weeks or more

More common in hyperactive dogs/breeds and working dogs. More common in dogs that have never had training.



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