Speed of Dog Adoption: Impact of Online Photo Traits

Lampe, L. and T.H. Witte. (2015). Speed of Dog Adoption: Impact of Online Photo Traits. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. 18:4, 343-354.

RESEARCH QUESTION: When you view photographs of adoptable dogs what characteristics capture your interest?  There are many assumptions, like a bandana rakishly draped around the dog’s neck, or a toy positioned casually nearby.  But what really works and what is just the photographer’s bias?

Two researchers from the Royal Veterinary College examined such questions.  They hope their study inspires a continuing effort to understand characteristics in photos that reduces the time dogs wait in shelters for that happy moment when a potential guardian feels a connection.

SAMPLE:  Dog photos in this study were taken from databases developed by www.Rescuegroups.org.  They provide the technology and website services for many shelters to post photographs and descriptive information about available dogs.  That information was inputted by the shelters between January 1, 2011 and June 15, 2012.  To create a manageable data set this study focused on 255 “Young” and 213 “Adult” Labrador Retrievers only.

METHODOLOGY:  Because it is a powerful advertising platform most pet adoption agencies use the internet to showcase pets.  The authors used these online photos to examine image features that possibly do and do not appeal to adopters.

A variety of characteristics were assessed by one veterinary student, including image quality, camera angle, was a person visible, was there eye contact with the camera, was a toy visible, an indoors or outdoors setting, and other data points.

The median days to adoption (MDA) was determined by using the dates pictures were posted and the date deleted.  Dogs adopted in less than a day and those remaining over 150 days were excluded as factors other than those being measured could have been involved.

FINDINGS:  While other studies prove that breed, color, age and behavior affect MDA, the present research examined the hypothesis that certain photo characteristics also influence adoption time.  They found:

  • Out of focus photos effected adult dogs more negatively
  • Improving overall photo quality seems to help young dogs more than adults
  • Having a person in the photo was more beneficial for adult dogs
  • Larger photos yielded faster adoptions for both young and adult dogs
  • Both age categories did better with outdoor settings but adult dogs benefited the most
  • For young dogs, eye contact with the camera resulted in an MDA of 27 days while only looking toward the camera yielded 45 days.  There was little difference between young dogs only looking toward or away from the camera.  These factors were not as important for adult dogs
  • Being held had a significantly poor effect on MDA in both age categories while standing was the best posture
  • Factors deemed important by many photographers, such as camera angle, a toy in the photo, wearing a bandana, visible tongue, and a larger number of images proved to be of lesser importance.

LIMITATIONS:  This study is a “proof of concept.”   In other words, it is not meant to be conclusive, rather it shows that features of online advertising can effect adoption rates and, hopefully, decrease euthanasia.  In fact, though, the study did validate some assumptions about what constitutes a winning image and casts doubt on others.

Interestingly, the effects of blurry and small photos were not statistically significant in the younger dog population, which may be due to the small sample size.  It was surprising that being outdoors did not have an impact on younger dogs; the authors suggest it is possible that younger dogs are simply more photogenic. Further analysis with a wider range of ages and dogs may shed light on how lighting and setting impact adoptions

The data used was inputted by individual shelters thus may not be precise, especially for some subjective fields such as primary breed, color, and age.  Days to adoption also relies on the accuracy of shelter recordkeeping.  Finally, there is an assumption that a significant number of adopters have used internet photos to help their search.

We hope that other researchers continue to examine how attention to small advertising details can benefit the millions of dogs who wait for their “forever homes.”

Summary by John Thompson



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