The role of artificial photo backgrounds of shelter dogs on pet profile clicking and the perception of sociability



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With the increasing prevalence of technology, the internet is often the first step for potential pet owners searching for an adoptable dog. However, best practices for the online portrayal of shelter and foster dogs remain unclear. Different online photo backgrounds appearing on adoption websites for shelter dogs may impact adoption speed by influencing viewer interest. Online clicking behaviour on pet profiles and human-directed sociability, broadly defined, has been previously linked to increased adoption likelihood. Therefore, the objective of this study was to determine the relationship between photo backgrounds of shelter dogs and online clicking as well as perceived human-directed sociability. In a virtual experiment, 680 participants were asked to rank the sociability and friendliness of four different adoptable dogs on a scale from 0–10. The photo background of each dog was digitally altered and randomly assigned to four experimental background conditions: 1) outdoor, 2) home indoor, 3) in-kennel, and 4) plain coloured. As a proxy for adoption interest, a link to the dog’s adoption profile was presented on each slide and the clicking behaviour of participants on this link was recorded. Mixed logistic regression and Poisson models revealed that background did not affect participants’ link-clicking behaviour (chisq = 3.55, df = 3, p = .314) nor perceptions of sociability (statistic = 6.19, df = 3, p = .103). Across all backgrounds, only 4.74% of presented slides culminated in participant link-clicking. Sociability scores also did not predict link clicking. Assessment of participant-related factors and dog ID revealed that link-clicking and sociability scores of photographs were influenced by differences between dogs themselves and unaffected by participants’ awareness of study hypotheses. We conclude that artificial background types did not affect participant responses. The results demonstrate the importance of empirical data in making marketing decisions in animal shelters. Understanding which aspects of online marketing materials impact viewer interest will provide guidance for both animal shelter personnel and foster families to improve the speed of adoption of the animals in their care.


© 2021 Lamb et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


Dogs, Animal Behavior, Animal Shelter, Pets and Companion Animals, Internet, Marketing, Advertising, Emotions, Research Assessment


Lamb F, Andrukonis A, Protopopova A (2021) The role of artificial photo backgrounds of shelter dogs on pet profile clicking and the perception of sociability. PLoS ONE 16(12): e0255551. pone.0255551