Temperament Testing Dogs -an Excuse to Kill?

Bound Angels Blog

Recently there seems to be much attention on temperament testing dogs in shelters here in LA.  The controversy is necessary because of the implications to the innocent- the shelter dogs.

In short, temperament testing a dog involves putting a dog through a series of tests to see if he will bite.  There is a lot more to it than that, but the bottom line is: If the dog bites – he dies.

So why do it?  Critics to temperament testing have been against the idea of the test since day one, yet everyone wants to know certain things:
• Is the dog good with other dogs?
• How is the dogs with kids?
• Is he friendly?

The question remains, “How do we know if we don’t test him?”

Well, there are a good many ways we can get a snapshot into a dog’s behavior without “testing him.”  There are two common tests that shelters perform, SAFER and Assess a Pet.  I have been, and remain, against these tests because of the level to which a dog is pushed in both tests.  In fact, I feel the dog is pushed to fail.  For one example, and the most ridiculous part of the test in my opinion remains the “food test.”  During this test a dog is brought into a room and a fresh can of wet food is put in front of the dog (keep in mind that dogs at shelters are rarely – if ever fed wet canned food).  This wet food becomes even more of a high value to the dog and he will seek to protect and keep it.  THEN…. One person holds the dog on a leash while another person suspiciously walks in front of the dog and using a “plastic hand” tries to (not only) take the food away, but also push this plastic hand into the dog’s face while he is eating.  Proponents of this test claim that it is for the safety of children, yet I see it as an excuse to kill a dog.

If a dog has food guarding or aggression issues, they are usually relatively simple to remedy through behavior modification training.  Furthermore, if a person adopts a dog and is too ignorant not to educate their child or themselves not to reach into the food bowl of the dog, they should be punished.  Of all of the components of these tests, this is the most flawed.  Of course there are other aspects I would love to take apart but this is the one that causes me the most grief because so many dogs lose their lives because of it.

Assessing a dog’s behavior is necessary in getting a snapshot of the dog’s personality for potential adoption, but it should be just that – an assessment to help a potential adopter.  It is also a tool that should help shelters understand what a dog might need more of.  There are shelters and recues that use behavior assessments to place dogs into training and enrichment programs and these are the organizations that should be using these tools, shelters that don’t have the time to retrain dogs should not spend too much of their focus on temperament testing.

Our BARC, Behavior Assessment and Reactivity Checklist is not a pass or fail test, but rather a checklist that can be done in 10 minutes or so and gives the staff, volunteers and adopters a little more information in order to adopt the dog.  BARC is a tool to aid in a dog’s adoption, there are several components in it that allow for correcting a dog that is showing troubled behavior and it allows for a dog to be retested if any part of the test is in question.

It’s important to understand that shelters are over-run with immense amounts of dogs entering the front of the shelter and not as many dogs exiting that same door.  Eventually it becomes a question of what do we do with the dogs.  Progressive programs including aggressive spay and neuter are important aspects municipalities must focus on in order to decrease the kill rate in our nations shelters.  Furthermore, BARC does not allow for a person’s opinion, there are a series of checkboxes that relate to most any situation.  It is also easy for anyone to examine afterwards and get a clear glimpse into the dog’s personality.

Using temperament tests in order to label dogs as unadoptable is a cop-out and one that should be fought against.  Assessing a dog’s behavior is a tool to save a dog when used properly and a BS excuse for killing a dog if used improperly.

A wise man once taught me, “Even a mouse will bite when cornered.”  If you push any dog enough, he will bite.  I’ve proven this over and over.  The question shouldn’t be “How far do I need to push this dog to get him to bite?”  It should be “How many good behaviors can I bring out of him during this assessment?”

Please read about BARC by following the link on BoundAngels.org under resources.