In the past, traditional shelters were designed as temporary holding facilities for stray dogs that only spent the typical legally mandated holding time at a shelter. Dogs were kept in long rows of kennels, which were deafeningly noisy from barking and clanging of metal bowls, gates, and doors.  Noise, crowding, and constant visual stimulation created considerable stress on dogs; group-housing often caused fights, bullying, and competition for food.

However, today we are more aware of the many stressors that dogs encounter in an animal shelter, and we are able to provide proper shelter design guidelines and recommendations for housing that will mitigate stress on shelter dogs.

Housing units should:

  • Allow each dog sufficient space to freely stand up, lie down, move about, and stretch out without having any part of its body (eg, ears, tail) touch the walls or ceiling.
  • Allow each dog to assume a comfortable position for eating and sleeping, and to urinate and defecate away from eating and sleeping areas.
  • Provide some opportunity to view the surroundings but also provide some escape from visual contact with other dogs.
  • Be constructed of a durable, solid, non-porous material that is easily disinfected
  • Have room for bedding or a soft resting bench. This is important for warmth and comfort, and is essential for geriatric or arthritic dogs.
  • Allow in ample amounts of natural light and fresh air.
  • Have adequate drainage, which ideally should be inside the primary enclosure rather than in a common aisle way, for disease control purposes.
  • Be as large as is practical, with individual “real life” rooms the best option.

The shelter building should:

  • Include separate isolation areas, each with its own air circulation, for incoming dogs or dogs whose health status is unknown, and for dogs who are ill.  Canine respiratory pathogens for example are easily transmitted by air, and gastrointestinal pathogens are easily transmitted by direct contact or foot traffic.
  • Allow separation of animals by neuter status, age, behavior, and medical needs.
  • Allow dogs to be housed individually, unless they are a dam with pups, littermates, come from the same household and are known to get along with each other, or are part of a planned and closely monitored  group housing enrichment program.
  •  Be constructed of durable materials that are easy to clean and readily disinfect
  • Have a foot traffic pattern that encourages cleaning and routine movement that minimizes walking from areas housing sick animals to areas housing healthy animals.
  • Be constructed in a way to minimize noise. This includes choice of less noisy materials for enclosures, doors, and latches; use of sound-absorbent materials in walls and ceilings; location of noise-producing machinery as far as possible from animal housing areas.
  • Include indoor and outdoor training and exercise areas.

Refer to the Association of Shelter Veterinarians for more information about Shelter Standards.