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Behavioural assessments

We must first of all accept that the very reason many dogs end up in a rescue kennel is because of underlying behavioural problems, many of which are either deliberately withheld by the original owner for fear of their dog not being accepted for adoption or not being available because the dog was picked up as a stray.  A great many potential problems can be exposed by counselling the owner when they offer their pet dog for rehoming.  At this time the owner forms a very valuable part of the rehoming process because they themselves are better placed than a member of kennel staff to advise on the type of home best suited to their dog’s needs.

It is considered negligent where an animal is placed into a home where it exhibits characteristics which might prove to be injurious to the interests of the persons adopting the dog.  In order for charities to be seen to be responsible in their adoption policies it is imperative that full behavioural evaluations are carried out which might show up past behaviours that have been learnt by the dog.

Here is the problem; despite all of the advances made in our understanding of animal behaviour no one is able to predict with certainty what the future holds when a dog enters a new home.  There are now so many testing procedures that animal charities use that you would think that someone would have come up with a series of valid tests that can accurately predict certain behaviours, but it has been demonstrated that none of the shelter tests can predict future behaviour, at best they can only predict past behaviour.  There are many tests such as SAFER test and the ASSES-A-PET test, C-BARQ.

These tests are carefully designed to predict which dogs are safe and which are unsafe to adopt into a typical pet home. 

As Jessica Hekman said –

shelters are not doing much more than flipping a coin when they use an assessment to decide whether a dog will be put on the adoption floor or, potentially, euthanized.

Testing behaviour tests – Jessica Hekman DVM, MS 


So we know that to date, there is no accurate way of measuring the behaviour of a dog in a kennel environment as a means of predicting its likely behaviour in a new home.  The main reason that we cannot guess how a dog will behave when it is re-homed is that to a large extent behavioural changes occur relative to the environment in which the dog finds itself.  It is, however, more than possible to obtain an indication as to past behaviour by carrying out some simple tests which have been carefully designed to highlight particularly strong characteristics.

The actual assessment themselves need to be carried out in two separate environments in order for the best information to be gained.  The first part of the assessment would be a daily monitoring of the dogs behaviour by staff who simply record behaviours that they observe.  After a minimum settling in period of seven days then a kennel assessment would be carried out by two independent members of staff.  These should have received special training and should not be involved in the day to day care of the dogs under test.  Again the problem here is that trained members of staff do not in any way behave as a member of the general population of dog owners would so any test is immediately flawed.

The third phase would be a behavioural examination in a typical home setting (real life room) carried out by a dedicated behavioural evaluator.

Only dogs that pass the behavioural evaluations would then be passed on for adoption whilst those that fail should then be given specialised treatment from the staff and volunteers in order to rehabilitate them prior to re-testing and possible adoption.

At the present moment in time very few animal charities in the UK  have a specialised facility available for the rehabilitation of problem dogs. For dogs that fail their behaviour assessments there are three possible courses of action: rehabilitation, euthanasia or a lifetime in a kennel environment.  There are no other choices available.  Although there is no easy moral answer to this dilemma you should consider that the more rescue centres that exist having a non-destruction policy, the more dogs there are that have to be put to sleep by those that do not have this policy.

For information – I have attached a document to this lesson, which is a series of test I devised for a charity to aid them choosing assistance dogs from shelters. Believe it or not, prior to them using my assessments they had taken on two dogs for training and after a couple of weeks they had to return them to the shelter because they were deaf! Note these tests were for sociability and trainability not aggression.

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