June 26, 2018
Categories: Research, Animal Behavior
Shelter dog, black and white, young

An in-shelter behavior assessment is not a reliable way to determine whether dogs will or won’t be safe in adoptive homes, reports a new ASPCA position statement. Instead, such evaluations need to be based on multiple observations over time.

That’s a position shared by Maddie’s Fund® Director of Research and board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Sheila D’Arpino.

“I began my career in shelters doing behavior assessments and teaching students how to assess behavior,” she said. “I fostered and found homes for dogs who did poorly on those assessments, and found that the behavior we were seeing in homes was often very different than the behavior we saw in shelters. Dogs that shelters were afraid to place because of behavior on a test were becoming beloved family members who didn’t pose a safety risk. Something was wrong with those assessments.”

She added, “Being in the shelter can change a dog’s behavior and result in them acting out due to stress,” said Dr. D’Arpino. “That’s why I’m so excited to see this position statement from the ASPCA, which recommends not making life or death decisions based upon a one-time test.”

In their statement, the ASPCA wrote:

Behavior assessments have not proven highly accurate or precise when used to predict aggression after adoption. It has been suggested that a significant number of dogs exhibiting aggression on an assessment do not do so in a home. For these reasons, the ASPCA maintains that euthanasia decisions should not be based solely on a dog’s behavior during an assessment or in any other single situation unless the aggression is egregious. If a dog shows behavior that might warrant euthanasia, we recommend that organizations only make such a decision when the behavior has been reported by multiple sources.

Those sources are outlined and explored in the statement, and include information obtained from:

  • The previous owner if owner-surrendered
  • The person who found the dog if stray
  • A shelter intake examination
  • Observations from staff and volunteers who interact with the dog
  • Behavior on walks and during socialization sessions and in playgroups
  • Feedback from foster homes
  • Behavior assessment results

“(A)ny single source of information should be considered a piece of the puzzle,” they wrote. “The more pieces you have, the more complete the puzzle.”

You can read the complete position statement and view its supporting references at the link below.

ASPCA 2018. Position Statement on Shelter Dog Behavior Assessments.

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