The research presented yesterday at the conference showed that the dogs' chances of finding a permanent home improved when their bed was put at the front of the cage and when they were given a toy.
"Potential owners are more likely to buy a dog that looks lively and fun than one who is moping at the back of his cage," said Deborah Wells, of Queen's University, Belfast, who conducted the study.
"Attractive dogs such as labradors and border collies do not have a problem finding someone to take them home but many of the dogs that end up in shelters are not so attractive. Black mongrels and rottweilers tend to stay in the shelter for much longer," Dr Wells said.
Every year thousands of dogs end up in the care of their local animal rescue shelter. Most are destroyed because they cannot be rehoused. Many are overlooked because their behaviour is considered undesirable - they bark aggressively or lie down, looking very lethargic. In some shelters dogs are put to sleep within a week of arriving because no one has taken them home.
The study examined the behavioural changes of 120 sheltered dogs when their environment was altered. The researchers increased the number of people who visited the dogs, tied a chewy hoop to the front of the cage and moved the bed to the front.
The increase in the number of visitors improved the dogs' behaviour the most. "Social stimulation encouraged the dogs to spend more time standing and increased their activity," Dr Wells said. "Certain shelters have taken some of the ideas. They have made a more favourable impression, which has increased the number of dogs that have been purchased from rescue shelters."Reuse content