Is Your Shelter Temperament Testing Dogs to Death?
Have you ever watched a video of a dog being "temperament tested" in an animal shelter and thought to yourself, "what are those people doing to that poor dog and why?" If you have, you are not alone. But, you now have some significant reinforcement for your concern. Jessica Heckman, DVM, MS recently had an article published in The Bark in which she discussed the recent science that has tested these so-called tests. The results are not good for advocates of "temperament" testing. (Note: I put "temperament" in quotation marks, because none of these tests can actually test temperament. They may be able to measure some highly context-sensitive behavior. That, however, is very different than testing "temperament". More on that in the links below.) Dr. Heckman primarily discusses the two most common tests performed in shelters. The rating for one was terrible. The rating for the other was even worse. Its accuracy at predicting future aggression was no better than random chance. To quote Dr. Heckman:
These are pretty chilling results. They could be interpreted to mean that the two most widely used behavioral assessments in the United States are not doing even a passable job of predicting aggression, and that shelters are not doing much more than flipping a coin when they use an assessment to decide whether a dog will be put on the adoption floor or, potentially, euthanized.
Ouch. The test results of the tests have got to hurt for those who have built their careers on pretending to be able to predict dog behavior using one of these tools. The results of the testing of the tests are even more problematic because administering these tests is labor intensive and expensive.
One of the primary problems with these tests is that they require people to make highly subjective judgments about dog behavior based on very strange and contrived situations. Take for example, the dog being "tested" in the image above. The tester is stomping a heavy plastic doll on a concrete floor in front of a dog (actual video is below) to evaluate whether the dog is "good with children." This dog failed this test. Watch the video below to see if you can explain why...
Note the amount of noise coming from the adjacent dog kennels to the testing room and ask yourself: how is this a simulation of an actual child in the comfort of a home? The obvious answer is that it is not, in any way, a simulation of the real-life experience of a child in a home, which is precisely why these so-called tests score about as well as flipping a coin. The good news is that the No Kill model has a real and viable alternative that is cost effective, more accurate and therapeutic at the same time.