Owned and rescue dogs are kept in very different conditions and experience different things, which means that they might react differently to things, including to a change in reward.
In other species, differences in husbandry have been found to affect the animals’ behavioural responses. Abou-Ismail et al (2010) investigated whether cage complexity affected behaviour and welfare of laboratory rats. Enriched cages were filled with a number of additional structures including gnawing objects, things to climb on, and shelter in order to stimulate activity. Unenriched cages were standard polypropylene cages with no additional features. They found that rats in “enriched” cages showed increased durations of sleep behaviour, and also lower levels of agonistic behaviours, such as fighting, both of which would also suggest improved welfare.
It is commonly accepted that in comparison to pet dogs, housed within a home environment, rescue dogs housed in kennels are subjected to relatively un-enriched housing conditions. Bearing in mind the results of the study described above, it could be suggested that rescue dogs may differ in performance of tasks to pet dogs.
Barrerra et al (2011) investigated the affects of housing type upon gaze directed towards people between shelter and owned dogs. While they didn’t find any significant differences in the gaze duration during the acquisition stage of the task, during the extinction stage rescue dogs were less persistent, showing less frequent gaze duration behaviours than pet dogs and thus faster extinction of the behaviour. Potential reason for this difference include pet dogs having greater opportunity to interact with humans than rescue dogs – again highlighting how a difference in housing condition can influence behaviour.
Such differences indicate contrasting affective states between pet and rescue dogs – suggesting a need for the development of a test of affective state that can be used as an indicator of welfare.