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On evaluating a shelter dog

1148 Views 6 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  gretasgifttome
Ruth (BowWowMeow) came up with this brilliant idea of starting a thread in which folks could share information on how to properly evaluate a shelter dog. Thank You Ruth

While I know a good temperament test is best done by a professional evaluator, I do hang around some shelters some time and interact with dogs, and some ideas on dealing with these dogs would be useful. Some questions that come to mind:

How to approach a dog in his/her cage?
What should I bring with me?
Any specific way that I take the dog out of his/her cage?
What specific things do I check? e.g touch paws/ check ears, ...what else?
How do I respond to - growling, hiding from me?

Please free to add to the questions and of course, some answers too, Please
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I'm not a proffesional evaluator, but im taking clases to get my training and behavior certificates so I've been going to local shelters to do my "on hand" hours. Some shelters have to go in and bring the dog out to you, so you cant pull them from their kennel at all. Ask if you could because it would be much better then just taking the leash in the lobby. When i first get up to their kennel, i look at their reaction to me. Barking, growling, hackles up, or some even cower back and hide. I stand outside the kennel and talk with a shelter worker to get some more info on the dog, this also lets him/her sniff me through the cage and get used to being around me. Never make any eye contact, or reach through the cage to touch the dog. After a few minutes i walk into the kennel, leash in hand, and just wait another minute or two before putting the loop over their head. then i give a quick hot dog piece or whatevr i have in my pocket and we walk out of the kennel.

when checking over the dogs overall health, looking at the feet to check how long their nails are, if their pads are cracked or warn down, if theirs knots of fur between the pads which can cause pain when walking etc. Looking at their body to see/feel ribs, feeling the coat, brushing it backwards to see their skin, color, texture ect. Wehn looking in their ears your looking for color if they're really red and inflammed chances are they may have some kind of reaction, gross build up (had a case once where they told me the dog was deaf... she had so much build up in her ears she couldnt hear a **** thing! quick trip to the vet, problem solved!) Be careful when checking teeth, i usually do this whole "dog checking" part last because it gives you a chance to let them trust you before you go poking and prying. When checking teeth your looking for color of the gums, tarter build up on the teeth, also i noticed to look for broken teeth or missing teeth, anything that could be problematic for the dog or adopter to deal with once theyve gotten home. I also do a quick "private" check when i have them laying down getting the famous belly rubs. Just to make sure they dont have a skin infection around there, or that in some longer hair dogs, they have problems defacating because of hair knots in the anal area.

I try and walk around outside letting them just paruse (sp?) around taking it all in, i try to walk past the outdoor area where some dogs are to see how they react to them. Once we've spent a little time together and are comfortable we pick a spot to begin our body check. Lastly i make aquick stop into the cat room, or if the shelter has a cat out i see how they react to being around cats.

Getting as much personal information from the shelter workers, certain little personality traits, or quirks they've noticed in working with the dog, so when i leave i have the most info possible.
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I’ll share some of my personal experience which I normally don't do in this area.

I would suggest that first someone should get involved with a rescue group or local shelter before jumping into evaluating these dogs. I personally think that evaluating dogs and adoption coordination should be left to those who have more experience and have been working in rescue for some time. My advice, start from the bottom. I started out at a local humane society hosing down kennels, cleaning kitty litter boxes, washing dishes and doing laundry before I could actually move up to things like dog walking.

Though I hated some of those duties it did give me the opportunity to learn and watch the dogs before interacting with them. You can learn a lot from just watching. I remember going home after my shift and writing down a lot of notes. I also picked up some books on dog behavior/training and did a lot of reading. (There really is too many books now-a-days to recommend but some I really like and would recommend to the potential dog evaluator are ‘The Dog’s Mind: Understanding Your Dog’s Behavior’ by Bruce Fogle, ‘Dog Language: An Encyclopedia of Canine Behavior’ by Roger Abrantes, Alice Rasmussen and Sarah Whitehead, ‘Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide Interpreting the Native Language of the Domestic Dog’ by Brenda Aloff and ‘On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals’ by Turid Rugaas.)

When I started volunteering I had no ambition to become an evaluator of these dogs. I just wanted to volunteer. I spent many hours with the shelter trainer teaching basic commands to many of these dogs so they could be more adoptable. This is also a great learning experience for anyone to help them see how dogs can react differently. In evaluating a dog you should never force a dog to do anything let alone into a position where it has to defend itself. In fact the goal of evaluating is to see what the dog will do, on his own, for you. It’s isn’t until after you’ve accepted the dog into the shelter that the training comes into play that you teach to the dog to do what you’d like him to do but this is still not a forced thing.

Dog evaluating is serious business. It’s up to you to make the call on if the dog should live or die. That’s why I say that you should have experience first. Yes you make mistakes sometimes but these dogs can’t be treated like a little puppy with no history. Many times you don’t know what these dogs have been through and you do have to approach evaluating them with a bit of compassion and empathy. You also have to be honest, which is the hard part sometimes.

Ok, done with my speech for now on to a link that will hopefully be helpful and answer some questions;
(Notice in this link that is states not to force the dog and if the dog gives a poor response during the evaluation that further determination might be needed in a foster home and in some cases even notes what type of foster home will be needed.)

I'm sure everyone can google for more. There's tons of info out there.
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I've been trying to think what to post here because my feelings about avaluations are complicated and I agree that people need to know what they're doing - which you learn through a lot of experience.

A person without a lot of experience can still do an enormous amount of good by going to shelters and getting better pictures and sharing their observations. And by doing all that, you will start to gain experience.

I just think it's vitally important that people know what they don't know. And no matter how much experience you get - never get cocky. You can and will be wrong at least some of the time. Leave your ego at the door. A dog's life could depend on it.

The other thing I wanted to say is that I look at evaluations as a continuum. They're a source of data but there's not really a pass fail of some objective test.

If someone is looking for a dog that's ok with cats, if the shelter dog shows too much interest in cats, then you might say that's not a good dog for them, but it doesn't necessarily mean the dog "fails" the eval in the sense that it's unadoptable for someone else.

I have a lot of problems with some of the shelter testing that goes on - I think the focus on regimented pass/fail dynamics and pushing dogs until they react is unfair. It's data. It can be useful to the person thinking about taking the dog. But it should be seen for what it is - ONE technique administered in ONE way. Not the be all end all, dogs on this side of the line = good, dogs on that side = bad. There's a lot of testing that a Retriever or often something like a Pit can just sail through - on average, they're a friendly and low anxiety bunch, but that some of your herders and small dogs find almost impossible. Doesn't mean they're bad dogs, just different strengths and weaknesses.

If we're talking about assessing more than Shepherds, different breeds really do have different quirks. If someone tells me a Chihuahua is snapping in a shelter, I think "yeah, and?" For me that's not a deal breaker, that's a typically terrified little dog. If a Golden is snapping, I think that's much weirder. If a Pointer has gone cage crazy, that's not too surprising for a high energy dog. but if he's lying on the ground completely passive, I'm more concerned that he's ill. If a GSD is barking at strangers who pass his kennel, I don't necessarily think that's a deal breaker when I'm deciding about a dog to pull - being territorial is a common trait of our breed. If another breed were doing it, it might give me more pause.

Know the breed you're assessing. Often the shelter won't. Know the group you're assessing for, their deal breakers will vary.

Also just being in a shelter can have a really major impact on a dog and throw off an evaluation totally, so it's important to keep that in mind. We've all seen the Shepherds who are fear aggressive wrecks in shelters but fine the second they're out of their kennel. But the opposite can kind of be true too. Being in a shelter can really squash down a dog's personality. They can come off as much more passive and laid back than they actually are. I've had MANY fosters who were 180 degrees different from my initial assessment after 2 weeks in foster care. Dogs who test great with other dogs but as soon as they feel comfortable start picking fights. Dogs who seem laid back that are high energy, dogs that seem high energy who are actually laid back.

So, I think it's important the people look at shelter assessments in that context - here's a snapshot of how this dog acted under these circumstances, on this day. It's data but it's not a definitive description of who that dog is.

Different rescues, fosters, adopters, whoever are going to have different ideas about what they're looking for, what risks they'll take, and what they can work with and what they're equipped to work with. When you are evaluating for someone else, all you can do is give them all the information you observed, the context in which you observed it, and let them make the call, but it's vitally important that you don't go beyond what you know and beyond your experience in assessment.
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Originally Posted By: pupresqThe other thing I wanted to say is that I look at evaluations as a continuum. They're a source of data but there's not really a pass fail of some objective test.
Major, huge, good point! Thank you.
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The shelter that i volunteer at is very willing to help, and they know so much, everytime i go i bring a notebook with me to take notes on things. I watch some of the "pros" eval these dogs, and i ask questions when theyre done. why did you do that way? what do you think he did that for when u did that? thats weird..hmm and they let me tell what i think and explain why, and correct me when im off track, and commend me when i notice things out of the ordinary. I'm very thankful for their help and knowledge, and i use a lot of my examples from the shelter in my lesson essays for school.
I like many of the points that Pupresq makes and I can say that I have certainly experienced similar things in the shelter evaluations I have done.... and in the dogs' transformation once they got to my house and out of the shelter setting.

Here in Alabama, it's hard to find a shelter volunteer, much less a trained evaluator. I personally feel qualified to do basic evaluations on Cocker Spaniels, Collies, Rotties, OES and GSDS. These are breeds that have been part of my life for the past 20 something years. I would not call myself an expert though.

What I do have and what I believe any evaluater (whether novice or trained) should have is COMMON SENSE and the ability to read a dogs body language. Textbooks are ok for acquiring knowledge about evals, but will never fit each and every dog.

Since I volunteer for a high kill shelter, I have many breed rescue contacts. And I am a big believer in breed specific rescues because of the temperament differences between various breeds and groups of dogs. I would no more than a man in the moon evaluate a chi or a min-pin, for example, cause I know very little about them. What I will do is look for someone who rescues, lives with and/or knows the breed well to evaluate the dogs temperament.
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