Is ‘temperament testing’ killing animals that could be rehomed?

Article, Nathan Winograd: ‘Temperament testing in the age of no-kill’

“In the past, shelter administrators openly killed for reasons like lack of space, antithesis to certain breeds, because the cats were feral, because of (highly treatable) illnesses like upper respiratory infection and kennel cough, or because there were too many black dogs in the shelter.

Today’s savvy shelter director would never be so blatant, so unapologetic for the slaughter.

Don’t be fooled: Shelters still kill at an alarming rate (4.4 million creatures last year in the US,< DRP: 250,000 in Australia>), but many are now doing it with a difference.

They are now doing so under the cloak of scientific legitimacy.

“The dogs and cats,” we are told, “are unadoptable.”…………..

To read this article, download it here………

DRP comment: there is no doubt  that ‘temp testing’ is being abused as a reason to remove animals that could be saved. Are they truly vicious?  Are they truely not rehomable? We have 3 wonderful pets at home that would fail most ‘temp  tests’ if they were suddenly thrown into a pound situation. That’s no reason to kill them.

We know that there are pounds and charity shelters that regularly fail and then kill animals because of a temperament test, and then they say “it was vicious” or “it was not rehomable”. –  ie set the bar low enough to justify killing animals, and you can always then say that you are rehoming a high percentage of rehomable animals and look good……But we know differently.

Some unfortunate  animals will be beyond salvation, but temperament testing should be used as a means of designing a behaviour modification for the animal, not as an excuse to eliminate enough animals to a “comfortable level” for the facility.

Please comment here if you suspect or know that a pound or shelter is abusing the temperament test. We need to make this public and hold them to account. We want to hear your stories

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8 thoughts on “Is ‘temperament testing’ killing animals that could be rehomed?

  1. Anne August 5, 2010 / 6:28 pm

    As an ex RSPCA staff member I have witnessed many animals euthanised due to failing a “temperament test”. In 2006 the temperament test undertaken at a major RSPCA shelter in Australia involved the dog trainer holding the dog on a leash in a confined room. The other trainer would walk purposefully into the room wearing a long dark coat and a large floppy hat. If the terrified dog reacted in any way negatively (i.e. bark, show fear) they failed the test. I have also witnessed litters of puppies killed for being “too mouthy” during the temperament test. This being puppies that never had a chance to play or learn to interact with people – they were brought in, in a box and shoved into kennel and left to get on with it – bar food and water until the day they had their fateful test. If you think a temperament test is to weed out dangerous dogs you are wrong. And also, please to anyone who may have purchased a dog from RSPCA Australia… if you are considering taking it back for any reason… PLEASE think very carefully. Many (90%+) returned dogs are instantly euthanised. I write this in memory of all the beautiful souls that lose their lives daily in the so called “rescue” facilities that people put their trust in.

  2. Grazyna August 6, 2010 / 11:13 am

    I don’t know how they assess dogs in shelters, but I do know that my adopted dog completely changed her behaviour within a few months of settling into a kind loving home and receiving leadership, socialisation and training. It is our one year anniversary today, and my (death row) most wonderful German Shepherd is training for CDX!

    What I do know is that testing dogs reactive BEHAVIOUR in a strange unknown threatening confusing environment is not the same as testing their innate TEMPERAMENT.

    It is not surprising that a dog may be fearful in the situation it finds itself in in a shelter. It is not surprising that a fearful dog may growl in defence. That does not mean it is “aggressive” and should be killed.

    Dogs have a high capacity for learning and are very responsive to their environment and relationships. Nature and nurture are both very important in shaping their behaviour. Many dogs (particularly working breeds) with “problem behaviours” are often the most intelligent with no-where to channel their drive and energy.

    I think current ‘temperament’ tests are over-rated – do they really measure the dog’s temperament or just their unnatural behaviour in the unnatural situation the poor dogs find themselves in? Are they biased against certain breeds?

    A bad ‘temperament’ test may be worse than people using their own common sense judgement. I would only ever get a dog based on what I see and think myself, taking account all factors, not rely on someone else to tick a box. I pity all those wonderful working dogs being put down as a result of inappropriate mismatch, unfortunate circumstances and misguided tests. :(

  3. sharon chamberlain August 6, 2010 / 2:52 pm

    I also worked in the rspcawa veterinary clinic and the vets and I tried to get the temperament tests re- evaluated and often objected to having to euthanase animals we do not believe were unadoptable. If we can take a scared animal vaccinate it, microchip it take its temperature and give oral wormers and medications without a negative reaction from it , that is a tolerant animal. Many animals in private vet practice are not as forgiving .
    I also felt that jumping out from behind the dog yelling and screaming to see its reaction was highly inapproriate and further damages the trust issue with humans.
    I also wanted to instigate free play off lead instead of isolating the dogs from contact with each other, all this fell on deaf ears and uncaring higher management.
    The main reasons dogs failed were food aggression and dog aggression, both of these issues have proved to have high sucess rates with the correct rehabilatation and training.
    There was no rehab or training done for these dogs, staff were made to feel euthanasia was justified. I am also a certified animal behaviour consultant and dog trainer as well as a vet nurse. None of the vets or myself stayed when we realised conditions were accepted the way they were and management were not intrested in changing. There are some dogs (as with people) who cannot be rehabilitated and are dangerous but these were in the minority. Myself and some of the vets still work in animal welfare voluntarily in small privately run rescue groups that genuinely want to help the individual animal that is not just a number or statistic.

  4. Tania McPherson August 6, 2010 / 3:14 pm

    I believe the majority of temperament tests are not an accurate method to define an animals real behaviour. Any animal in a pound environment will feel somewhat wary due to a number of factors such as smells, sounds and sights. I have seen many good dogs enter pounds with a sense of excitment as though they are excited at having an outing. I have seen the same dogs a few days later acting scared and then being classified as’a potential fear biter and euthanised. I believe most of those animals were suffering from depression being in a pound environment. I would take them for a walk on the óutside to see what they would do and almost always they would start behaving normally. Why? My guess is that they were out of the pound enviroment in which that had felt uneasy in. Not much different to humans – If you take away the ”threat’ the fear goes away.

    People react differently to the enviroments they are in and so do animals. If you can properly read and understand an animals behaviour you can make a positve connection with that animal and almost instantly see a difference. It may just be a slight difference first up but the next time you see the animal it will associate you to the positive feeling it had.

    Different breeds require different physical and mental stimulation and if these needs are not met behavioural problems will occur. Sadly not many Council pounds are equipped to fulfill these needs nor do they have the resources. Many good dogs, especially working dogs and working dog cross breeds are put to sleep as their behavioural needs have not been met.

    Humans are suppose to have a higher level of intelligence than animals but sadly many people don’t or can’t read an animals behaviour properly in order to make that connection, therefore the behaviour will continue and often manifest.

    Animals are much more easy to rehabilitate than humans, so what do we do?

  5. bugaloo June 8, 2012 / 11:02 pm

    I found a stray 18month old murray river retriever and took it to the lost dogs home hoping it might find its owner. When she wasnt claimed I went there to adopt her. I was told she failed the temperament test at the lost dogs home and wouldnt be put up for adoption. I was told she was too willful and she growled when playing and the staff really tried to talk me out of adopting her. They eventually let me have her when they realised I wasnt leaving without her. She had the most beautiful personality. She was great with my kids, other dogs, even cats. She was a bit wilful but she wanted to please even more, so much so that she walked off lead no probs ever. She did growl when playing, but only ever at her beloved sock she carried everywhere. She never once at the kids, even tho they regularly dressed her in fairy wings and feather boas. And never at my other dogs, even when all eating bones together on the back lawn. The temperament test is rubbish!!!!! A dog in a pound environment is nothing like a dog in a happy family pack.

  6. Grazyna June 9, 2012 / 10:50 am

    Bugaloo I completely agree, and good on you for sticking to your guns and getting her out. Judging a dog who has been completely displaced, been through hell and is in a pound environment is like trying to “assess” someone in a concentration camp. I think the “temperament test” is a lot of rot used as an excuse to dispose of a lot of poor dogs. My beautiful awesome ex-rescue GSD (now 2 years later) who would have been a goner (too “timid”, “non responsive” and with a “skin condition”) is now a happy, confident, gorgeous most beautiful and intelligent top obedience & tracking dog (CDX TD) and loyal trustworthy family and community member… They deserve a second chance and blossom if so lucky as to get one :) Good on you!!

  7. fishmobabywhirlamagig August 1, 2012 / 12:18 am

    I agree that, given a shelter has room to house more animals that they are, many have very skewed ideas of ‘adoptable.’ My dog was borderline adoptable, he had some very mild people and dog aggression issues which I was able to quickly resolve, and he is a well adjusted dog now.

    However, sometimes you have to take the quick approach. Yes, all dogs deserve a chance, I would never argue that; But if you have a shelter that can hold 20 dogs, and you receive 40 dogs a day, something has got to give. They may inform owners that they are full and dogs left will be euthanize, but sadly, that doesn’t stop most people. The option becomes; Euthanize all dogs when shelter is full, or euthanize the dogs that will be there longer. When you allow more adoptable dogs through, that allows you to have a faster turn over and save more animals.

    A no kill society is an amazing concept, but it isn’t feasible right now. No kill shelters have to turn down animals. Those animals just end up dying at someone elses’ hands. When you have a dog that growls, and you put it up against a dog that doesn’t, the dog that doesn’t will get adopted sooner. Does it mean the dog that growls has a serious problem? Not necessarily. But he will sit longer, he will take up a space longer, and more dogs will die while he waits.

    I really, really hope we eventually get to a point in out society where nobody has to die. I do. As more fosters and more kennel space become available, or as numbers of incoming dogs wain, temperament testing will become more fair.

  8. slydon August 1, 2012 / 3:05 am

    Also, temperament testing has one additional factor, it’s done in front of the current owners, which means if the animal fails, the owner has to sign a paper saying “Sure, kill my pet”. A few animals get a second chance at home vs the owner’s knowledge that they WILL be euthanized right after the owner leaves.

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