Assessing Dog Behaviour in Shelter Settings

Assessing Dog Behaviour in Shelter Settings
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1 Module 1
Recorded on: 2020-12-02
Unit 1 Slide Deck: Assessing Dog Behaviour in Shelter Settings
Unit 2 Transcript: Assessing Dog Behaviour in Shelter Settings
Unit 3 Workbook: Assessing Dog Behaviour in Shelter Settings
Unit 4 Recording: Assessing Dog Behaviour in Shelter Settings

Lots of progress has been seen in research and practices across different fields, and it is no different when it comes to assessment processes for dogs in shelters. Research and the ASPCA agree that instead of subjecting dogs to trigger stacking exercises to understand behavior, assessing from multiple points through normal interactions is more beneficial. This shift in the way assessments are being conducted is at the core of this session’s discussion.

Back on Justice Clearinghouse are Trish McMillan and Diana Rayment. Trish is the owner of McMillan Animal Behavior who’s been involved in the animal rescue and sheltering world since the mid-1990s. She holds a Master of Science degree in Animal Behavior and is certified as a professional dog trainer, dog behavior consultant, and cat behavior consultant. Meanwhile, Diana leads the behavior team at the Greyhound Adoption Program Victoria. She holds a Ph.D. in Canine Behavior and a Bachelor of Animal Science, specializes in canine behavior and assessments in applied settings like animal shelters, and has worked as an educator, scientist, dog trainer and shelter nurse.

This webinar’s discussion covered:

  • Distinction about commonly confused terms and the importance of language in the topic.
  • The most common assessments/tests being employed in shelters across the US, and the reality that the most popular ones aren’t validated.
  • The primary research that paved the path for the shift in the approach that shelters take when assessing the adoptability of the animals in their care.
  • The critical skills and qualifications for behavior and animal care staff to ensure that quality assessments are processed correctly.
  • The ASPCA’s official statement supporting the multiple-point approach to assessing animals.
  • The different point of views that must be considered and are the basis of assessments.
  • The value in conducting continuous assessments that take into account a dog’s baseline behavior, monitor changes, and adjust enrichment and pathways as needed.
  • How invasive and trigger stacking activities is likely to result in false positives and the specific exercises that may be done in its place.
  • What shelters can do to ensure that the assessments are fair through:
    • Well-trained staff and scheduled intakes.
    • Making fast track processes available and prompt decision-making on pathways.
    • Updated information based on research and staff interaction with the animals.
    • Humane housing and welfare conditions.
  • Behavioral euthanasia as an option when an animal is decided to not be safe to be incorporated back to society upon thorough assessments.
  • The scope, limits and considerations on what animal agencies can provide to improve dogs’ social skills, and ensure adoptability and integration in their new homes.
  • The risk assessment matrix that can help decide on an animal’s adoptability by looking at the probability of the behavior and the severity of the consequence of the behavior.
  • Working with specialist breeds by getting experts in to observe and interpret behaviors.
  • Setting an adoptability criteria that have been vetted by the different professionals working with the animals, is documented, up-to-date with research, and guides decision-making.
  • Being conscious of confirmation bias when working with animals.

Questions from the audience were about:

  • Evaluating volunteer dog walkers to read the dog’s body language.
  • Specifics on the staff’s information gathering stage for the assessment.
  • Recommended training and mentoring programs for assessing dog behavior.



This is part of a two-part series:


Resources and Handouts



Audience Comments

  • “Thank you so much for this fantastic webinar! I have worked for 7 years in the veterinary field as an assistant, and even went through the fear-free training; however, I was missing quite a bit about animal behavior in my training. The knowledge you have quickly taught in your hour-long webinar series could have prevented the bite incident that caused damage to my face. I wish my co-workers and me would have known what I know now. Thank you, Trish and Di!” — Desiree
  • “It was valuable to talk about behavioral euthanasia in a frank and honest way.” — Jennifer
  • “Already on the same page in terms of the subject matter. I think the reference materials will be very valuable.” — Julie
  • “Practical, real-world understanding of what the Animal Shelter industry should be doing.” — Mick
  • “I love Trish, I’m a big fan!” — Shannon
  • “Good to know to assess based on many factors, taking into consideration time and place.” — Tamar


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