How home pen design affects the welfare of laboratory dogs

A new publication in the Journal of Toxicological and Pharmacological Methods compares the effect of traditional and modern home pen design on the welfare of laboratory beagles. The study, by Dr Laura Scullion Hall and Professor Hannah Buchanan-Smith from Stirling University, performed in collaboration with AstraZeneca and Charles River Laboratories, was co-funded by the NC3Rs.

The authors found that modern home pen design, environmental enrichment and inclusion of regular training and staff contact are important to promote positive welfare and refine the lifetime experience of dogs used in research.

Laboratory dogs spend the majority of their time in their home pens, with limited access to the animal room or indoor/outdoor play areas. Design of these facilities is therefore very important for dog welfare, but it has not received a lot of scientific attention. Modern, purpose-built facilities feature increased visibility both for dogs and staff, through greater use of glass and horizontal rather than vertical bars, a choice of locations, via exit points and platforms within the pen, as well as climbing frames and toys in the play areas (see images). Despite the industry gradually moving towards modern dog unit and pen designs, much of the supporting evidence for their welfare benefits remains anecdotal. 

From left to right: modern home pen; traditional home pen; indoor play area.

Together with her colleagues, Dr Scullion Hall used validated behavioural measures of welfare, mechanical pressure threshold testing and ambient sound levels to compare the welfare of beagles in two facilities in which home pen design, environmental enrichment, staff contact and training differed. The results showed that beagles in a purpose-built facility with modern home pen design and exposed to regular staff contact and training demonstrate more signs of positive welfare, such as resting, and fewer negative signs, such as vigilance and stereotypies. This study therefore provides empirical evidence to support improved housing standards for laboratory dogs.

Earlier this year, Dr Scullion Hall won the NC3Rs 3Rs Prize for her work to create a framework for assessing the welfare of beagles used in research and to refine the gavage dosing procedure. She also developed Refining Dog Care, a website that provides evidence-based recommendations and support for good practice while working with dogs in research.

The NC3Rs also offers resources on dog housing and husbandry, with advice on the housing of laboratory dogs, tools for their welfare assessment, and suggestions for refinement of procedures used in safety assessment studies.



Scullion Hall LEM, Robinson S, Finch J, Buchanan-Smith HM (2016) The influence of facility and home pen design on the welfare of the laboratory-housed dog, Journal of Toxicological and Pharmacological Methods

Subscribe to our newsletter