Temperament Testing

In an effort to afford potential adopters with full knowledge of their future pet, animal shelters provide behavior tests so as to provide the best adoption match.  Over the years, various temperament tests were used and eventually, they migrated to the Safer Test for dogs.  Using a worksheet, the dog undergoes various tasks and a determination is made as to the temperament of the dog at the time of the testing procedure.  For obvious reasons, no test is performed to determine if the dog is good with children.

The Safer Test is a good indicator, but potential adopters should understand that the test is performed under controlled conditions and that the dog is performing the test after being taken from a confined space within a loud kennel.  The Safer Test is only an indicator, but usually pretty accurate if performed by qualified, attentive staff.

It is not uncommon for owners who have had their dogs seized as a dangerous dog will demand that their dog be tested for aggression as if the Safer Test will outweigh the dog’s actions of attacking someone.  In court trials, attorneys for dog owners make claims that their client was denied Due Process because the animal shelter failed to administer a temperament test on the dog.  The dog’s temperament at the time that the dog is in the shelter has nothing to do with the dog running out into the street to bite a delivery person.  The only true test would be to set up the same conditions that caused the dog to attack in the first place.  The Safer Test does not provide for having someone drive up in a UPS truck and approach the dog’s house in a UPS uniform.  If it did, the dog would likely fail that test.

Dogs are territorial.  They see someone approach their house and after barking at them, the person leaves; likely because their job is done and the package has been delivered.  Over time the dog begins to see that by showing aggression toward these people that the dog always wins and the person leaves.  If allowed to escape the yard, the dog realizes that he can finally teach them a lesson and bites them.  Even a dog that has passed a Safer Test could be caught in this situation.

Over the years, I have tried to explain this to dog owners who have asked to allow their dog to be evaluated prior to a dangerous dog hearing.  Sometimes, I have even been tempted to allow it; but, I know that if I allow someone to test the dog while the dog is in my shelter and that person is attacked, that is on me.  The person will ask to sign a waiver, but a waiver of liability will not hold up in court.   It is foolish to place the shelter at legal risk by allowing someone to interact with the animal.  You don’t want to end your career by allowing someone into a position of being able to sue you and your jurisdiction.

It can also be said that potential adopters may be fooled by a spotless temperament test for a pet for adoption.  A temperament test does not speak to the nature of that pet; it speaks to the behavior of the animal at a given time under controlled conditions.  We are frequently asked if a dog is good with children.  It depends.  There is always a risk of placing children with pets and as such, no animal shelter in their right mind would conduct such a test.  Although, we discovered our volunteers conducting such tests without staff knowledge.  I cannot say enough, “dogs bite.”  As smart as we are, we cannot predict in advance what will trigger a dog to bite.  I’ve witnessed incidents in which people behave in a manner that should have gotten them bitten, but they weren’t.  I have also witnessed incidents in which an animal chose to bite without visible reason.

At best, temperament tests are only as good as the circumstances, control, and ability of the persons conducting the test.  Usually, when we question an evaluation, we conduct it again using different evaluators and frequently get different results.  So?  Which evaluation do you use?  Many animal shelters will continue conducting an evaluation until they get the one that they want… just wear the dog down until it behaves as you want.  It is no wonder that an adopter will quickly return an animal because it does not live up to the hype of the evaluation.  People want perfect pets.  Perfect pets don’t exist.  It would be better if we training the adopter as to what to expect than offering up a pet as something that it was during a ten-minute evaluation.

Purchasing a pet is a risk.  For that reason, many States enact Pet Lemon Laws that provide for the return of the pet or provide compensation for pet owners who find their newly adopted pet requiring veterinary treatment.  As much as people insist on guarantees, animal shelters can only report on what they see.  Anyone wanting to adopt a pet should first check the integrity of the organization adopting the pet.  It is unfortunate that many shelters will do anything to prevent an animal from euthanasia; even lie about its behavior.