It has recently been demonstrated that the way an animal responds to a change in reward can be influenced by their affective state.
Burman et al (2008) found that rats in un-enriched housing that typically exhibited behaviours indicative of poorer welfare, showed a prolonged response to a decrease in food reward compared to rats in enriched housing conditions. This suggests an enhanced sensitivity to reward change. It has been suggested that the loss of a reward is aversive, and can lead to affective responses akin to disappointment or frustration – the more negative an animal’s affective state is to begin with, the longer they will take to recover from a loss of reward.
Such findings indicate that sensitivity to reward change, and specifically a reduction in reward, may be a valuable new method of assessing welfare in a variety of animals. In particular, the development of such a test could be used as a vital method of assessing the impact of different environmental manipulations – such as increased enrichment schedules – on animal welfare.
It is generally accepted that in comparison to owned dogs, rescue dogs experience reduced enrichment which we believe to compromise their welfare. Read more about the differences between rescue and owned dogs here.