Behavioral Evaluations

Over the last several years ARK has witnessed dogs mislabeled based on inaccurate read of dog body language or in depth understanding of dog behavior. Such labels are put on dogs and often they are euthanized under the guise of “unadoptable.”

Now there is research that showcases behavioral issues just like medical issues can be managed and treated.  And now there are years of ARK dogs that prove what we have known all along. These dogs labeled with such terms as “unadoptable” or “aggressive” are indeed adoptable, far from aggressive, and finding loving and compatible forever homes.

ARK sees behavioral evaluations as one process to learn a dog’s needs and find an appropriate organization willing and capable of working on these needs first before euthanizing the dog as ‘unadoptable.’  ARK evaluates and takes the dog as an individual and spends time during the evaluation to allow the dog to de-stress if possible to get a more accurate read. We take many things into consideration other than a cut and dry evaluation.

ARK’s experience coincides with Patricia B. McConnell, PHD and Karen B. London, Phd.  in “Love Has No Age Limit.”

They write, “The fact is that behavior is “context dependent,” meaning that all social animals behave differently in different environments.  We all know this intuitively about ourselves: Are you the same person at a tense business meeting as you are at home on a Sunday morning?  Are you a basically calm person who goes crazy when your favorite team wins a big game? Dogs often behave differently in a group setting, like a shelter or foster home with lots of dogs, than they do in a home in which they are the only dog.  Evaluation in other contexts are still valuable-we strongly support objective and well-done ones-but a dog’s behavior in one environment is never 100% predictive of his behavior in another. “

Continuing in the same vein, Dr. Pamela Reid, a certified applied animal behaviorist who received her Ph.D. in Psychology with a specialization in animal learning and behavior from the University of Toronto concludes in her article for the National Canine Research Council, “It’s not “Just Semantics” WORDS DO MATTER. Can we be reasonably confident that the way the dog behaves on a “test” reflects how the dog will behave in the future?”

“And we need to open our minds when it comes to the rehabilitation of shelter dogs. Again, words matter. Just because we are labeling a dog with words like “fearful,” “aggressive,” or “asocial,” doesn’t mean that behavior can’t be changed. We know that even highly adaptive, predisposed behavior is amenable to change. The individual is the biggest contributor to whether rehabilitation will succeed. Some dogs will be very resistant to treatment, just like some people, but others will be highly receptive. And, if you do attempt to rehabilitate a dog, acknowledge that nothing happens overnight. It takes time and effort. If you happen to work in a shelter that has the resources to work with problem dogs, recognize that one to two months of work is realistic. If you can’t significantly improve the dog in that amount of time, it may not be worth the effort to continue, as other dogs could be benefiting from those resources. This is a judgment call that should be based on the mission of each organization. It is a question of weighing the needs of the many against the needs of the few. There are no right or wrong answers, merely choices that need to be made. But, please, base these choices on sound scientific knowledge, not opinion and intuition. Attend to your words; semantics often have unintended applications.”

For a full copy of the article:

One area that has virtually changed is the euthanizing of shelter dogs for food aggression.

Shelters have recognized that long standing beliefs such as adopters will not adopt and keep dogs that show these behaviors and that food aggressive behaviors in a shelter environment carry over to the new home proved incorrect as recorded by two recently published studies that were conducted using standardized evaluations.

For a full copy of the article:

The article concludes “Blanket assumptions about the future behavior of dogs described as food aggressive in a shelter, as well as about the suitability of such dogs for adoption, are unfounded. Rather than rely on blanket assumptions, shelters should trust to compassion, critical thinking, and common sense.”  Dr. Amy Marder, one of the leading applied behaviorists in the country and past Director of The Center for Shelter Dogs in Boston, reminds us “Each dog should be considered as an individual and all behavioral and owner-related factors considered when making adoption decisions.”

We ask shelters to join the movement to embrace this research and start seeing the dogs in such need at your shelter worthy of your resources.  In the alternative, reach out to other shelters and rescues that have developed the resources to help these dogs. Reach out to ARK, we are here to help.

Of the over 400 dogs ARK has helped since its inception in May 2012, over half were dogs that had such labels as “unadoptable”  or “aggressive” or were discriminated against because of breed or who didn’t test well on their behavioral evaluation or were doing poorly in their shelter environment or/and whose hold time was up meaning euthanization if placement was not found immediately. The majority of the other dogs likely would have deteriorated in a conventional shelter or would have likely done poorly on an evaluation.  Only 61 of the dogs ARK has helped actually needed more intense training or an experienced foster. The rest either needed basic training as all dogs need or the behavior that was suspect in the prior environment completely dissipated upon transfer.  What is this telling us?  We were over killing.  These dogs are providing proof they can be saved.

These ARK dogs are now Poster Dogs leading to positive change in how Massachusetts shelters and ACOs view their homeless dogs.

ARK is on the precipice of a proven rescue model that bridges the collaboration between area shelters, rescues and ACOs reshaping the rescue model resulting in previously euthanized homeless dogs given the chance they need to succeed in the rescue world and eventually their new forever home.  Please join us as we give this chance to every homeless dog in Massachusetts.