Behavioural assessment in Australian animal shelters

Thousands of dogs are relinquished to Australian animal shelters each year. Prior to being made available for adoption, dogs undergo a behavioural assessment to determine their suitability as companions. Dogs that pass the assessment are made available for adoption, whereas those that fail are usually euthanased. This is potentially problematic for several reasons; not only do current protocols used to assess adoption suitability lack standardisation in their content and methodology, very few have been presented in the peer reviewed literature.

This is an extract from a paper presented at last year’s National Desexing Network summit to end pet overpopulation.

How would your own dog react in an unfamiliar and extremely stressful situation to a multitude of strange objects, noise and activities, other dogs and people? Would your dog grab and shake a dolly or stuffed toy? If so your dog would most likely be on the long list to be destroyed.

This paper reports that two thirds (77%) of assessment staff who responded to the survey reported that they had received training in the assessment of shelter dogs whereas one third (33%) reported that they had not received training. BUT the most common form of training was ‘on the job’ training (59%) followed by ‘attended a seminar/completed a course’ (33%).

So in a nutshell, there is no standard and properly researched and reported method for a behavioural assessment and the majority of those that carry out the assessment have not had any proper formal training.

Yet the life of each animal they assess rests in their hands….This is just not good enough.

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2 thoughts on “Behavioural assessment in Australian animal shelters

  1. Marie H February 15, 2009 / 11:52 am

    Another concern with assessment of dogs when taken into a pound/shelter, is that it’s often said to be a test of an animal’s temperament.

    No, it’s not. It’s a behavioral assessment under certain circumstances in a particular environment. And research has found that the pound/shelter environment is one of high stress for the dogs.

    It would be considered unethical & inaccurate to assess a human being’s behaviour in highly stressful circumstances & claim that it gave a true picture of the person’s temperament.
    Temperament is the patterns of behaviour over time. Not what shows in a once-only highly stressful circumstance.

    Shelters/pounds need to have a section that is a more ‘natural’ setting, more like the regular circumstances that a dog lives in.
    Away from the anxiety-producing sights, sounds & smells.
    That would give a fairer estimation of a dog’s behaviour. Instead of one that’s highly distorted by high stress & anxiety.

  2. deathrowpets February 16, 2009 / 3:02 pm

    Thank you for your comment. You are quite correct – it’s been shown that in the wrong hands Temperament Tests can be badly used to raise the bar on decisions to kill healthy animals. The RSPCA NSW have just this past year in their report created a category of kills called “Killed for pound reasons”. Read ino that what you will.
    The UK Dogs Trust “never destroys a healthy animal” – no matter what its behaviour problem is. They stick with the animal, don’t give up on it, and get it back on track for a successful rehoming. But then again, the Brits as a nation have a far higher regard for animal life than we do, don’t they?

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