The Reality of Where We are Now
Semyonova, A, September 2016, Behavior Testing Shelter Dogs. The reality of where we are now. A special report that accompanied, “What’s Behind the Click and Bait Web Advertisements of Aggressive Shelter Dogs Available for Adoption Today?” published at DogsBite.org.
The academic community admits it still doesn’t know what ‘behavior tests’ really measure. They specifically exclude several crucial variables that would give their tests value as risk assessment. They refuse to use field data in developing and assessing validity of their tests. The samples used in developing tests are often biased, as is the outcome the tests aim at achieving. Test developers are not obligated to consider public safety. If the funder wants live release to be the main concern, then the tests are developed to accommodate this wish.
Shelters play their own role in ‘behavior testing’, often designing their own tests so as to elevate live release rates. They select testers with the same goal in mind, often firing testers and staff who don’t comply. Shelters may report behavior tests in their files, but they don’t tell which test was used, what the training or qualifications of the testers are, or even require any real training or qualification beyond popularity on the work floor. ‘Animal behaviorist’ is not a protected title. Shelters allow any staff that has tested a dog to use this title, and that is legally okay.
Shelter testing can be useful in assessing risk and matching dogs to adopters, but it is not a scientific activity. At the moment, it is being used to serve other goals than to assess real risk so as to protect public safety and the well-being of shelter dogs. Only the inclusion of all known risk factors, of field data and of longitudinal observations of any individual dog will help remedy this situation.