Here at the Shelter we put each dog through a thorough temperament and behavioral evaluation. We try to screen all our dogs for potential problems, especially aggression. It is important to understand that if a dog is alive, he is capable of aggression. What we are looking for in shelter dogs that we are considering placing into homes with children, is a dog with very high thresholds for all types of aggression. We want dogs that are going to live with young children to have long fuses. We are not just looking for a dog who is merely TOLERANT of young children, we are trying to match you with a dog that ADORES children, in fact, almost prefers them to adults. The reason for this is because all children, even very well-behaved and well-supervised children, will eventually do something to the dog, relentlessly, invasively, past the point of what may be considered fair or tolerable, and we at the shelter desperately want to make sure your child does not get bitten or hurt at that moment. We want your dog to be as happy with your family as your family is with your dog.
Positive, loving relationships with pets at a young age promotes responsible, respectful, humane and caring adults. Children who are bitten by dogs are scarred, not just physically, but emotionally as well, often for life.
In our evaluation process, we look at the dog’s responses and thresholds to normal everyday circumstances, such as how tense he may get when petted, nudged, or approached while eating; how tense he may get when petted, nudged or approached while chewing on a rawhide or pig’s ear; how tolerant is the dog of having his body handled, of being hugged, and then being hugged for a period of time longer than wanted; of being restrained, of being made to do something he doesn’t want to do, or being held back from doing something be wants to do; we test for his predatory excitement levels, how stimulated he gets by running, squealing things; we look at how roughly he plays, how sensitively he handles his body — is he brutal or gentle and respectful of his own size and the size of humans; how affectionate and loving and congenial and social he is, since the more social he is, the more tolerant of any of any of the above average discomforts he will be. Bear in mind that we are trying to evaluate how a dog may behave in a home, WHILE HE LIVES IN A KENNEL. The task is difficult and the ability to accurately predict future home-environment behavior is unproven, but we feel it necessary to handle and work with each dog, and put it through the most complete assessment we can before placing a dog into a home with young children.
While temperament testing can lower the risk of new adopters encountering aggression, it by no means guarantees against it. The Shelter must follow up with you, the owner, to find out, in the home environment, whether the dog is settling in well or heading for an aggressive episode.
By Sue Steinberg
Sue Steinberg is one of the nation‘s most respected trainers and kennel owners on topics such as temperament evaluation, lowering stress for kenneled dogs, and enhancing adoptability. An author of numerous articles and booklets targeted to animal shelters and breed rescue groups, she lectures around the county for groups such as the ASPCA, American Humane Association, Humane Society of the United States, and the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors.