Assessing a Pet’s Temperament

Dog Bite

The ASPCA has devised a test called SAFER – Safety Assessment for Evaluating Rehoming. This test is used to predict aggressive behavior in dogs so that if possible, behavior modification may be implemented.

The assessment takes place out of the kennel in a quiet room and lasts about 10 minutes. Trained professionals usually perform the tests. For example, the tests include a bowl of food placed on the floor. The tester uses a long-handled pole with a fake hand at the end to see if the dog will attack when the food bowl is touched. These are by no means the only tests used to determine aggression.

The SAFER tests and other similar ones are used in many shelters. The tests are given to dogs 6 months and older who have been in the shelter for at least 72 hours.

Stress levels, fear, history if known, behavior in the kennel, behavior on walks, all are considered when assessing a pet’s temperament.

The Meet Your Match Canine-ality is used to assess sociability, manners, play style, etc.

Dogs that do not do well in a shelter environment may be considered for placement in a foster home where they will feel more comfortable and be given individual attention.

It should be noted that the SAFER test is controversial because animals in shelters may behave well in a home, but are too stressed out in that environment. Animals placed in a shelter environment can develop behavior problems due to stress and fear.

Cat temperament testing depends largely on the kennel workers or veterinary technicians assessments. If the cat, confined in a cage 24/7 tries to scratch or hisses at a person, it can result in tragedy for the cat.

These programs should not be pass or fail, rather used to identify potential problems that may or may not exist. Hopefully, shelters will use these tests to modify unwanted behavior.

Sadly, animals who do not do well on their temperament tests are marked for euthanasia, unfairly I feel.

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A personal note: When I adopted my pitbull mix, Murphy, from a shelter, I was told she was very quiet and not very active. The minute I brought her home, it was as though someone turned a switch to the on position and she ran around like a mad though very happy dog. And after 3 years, she hasn’t changed much – still bounces around but is the most loving of dogs. Temperament testing is not perfect but needless to say I’ve not regretted a minute of sharing my life with her.

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