Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tempermant Testing Fails to Evaluate Shelter Dogs

While I was interning at Farm Sanctuary a dog was dumped on its grounds. As the farm does not take in dogs, he was sent to Tompkins County SPCA, a no-kill shelter in Ithaca. When I called to check up on him, I learned that he was scheduled to be put down that day because he had failed temperament testing. He tested positive for "rough play," "possession aggression" and "food aggression". Having spent time with the dog, I knew this could not be the case. After arguing with staff on the phone they agreed to hold him until 5pm and release him to me, as he was "dangerous" and "un-adoptable."

I was able to watch a video of the tests they did to evaluate him. During one, he was chained to a wall in two spots and poked at with a large rubber arm on a stick. He was given pig ears and other treats while the arm poked at his face trying to knock food, toys and pig ears out of his mouth. At some point, he growled, backed away from the arm and snapped. This led them to deem him too dangerous to be adopted. During another test, they had him play and jump on a man with a hockey stick, who would use the stick to block and push the dog off and rough him up. This was deemed rough play, but was not enough to fail him.

I had to sign legal forms, which said that the dog cannot live in Ithaca, is a danger to society and that I accept all responsibility. After being warned again about how dangerous he was, they walked him out and when he saw me he trotted over and placed his head over my shoulder and tried to curl up in my lap. He sat there, leaned into me and licked my cheek. When I stood back up to sign the rest of the forms he trotted over to my friend, Zoe, (who he'd never met until then) and leaned into her chest with his head waiting for the affection.

This is the e-mail I wrote to the shelter about how Party (that is his name) has been doing since I took him home. My hope is to make them realize the inadequacies of their temperament tests. Party tested positive for rough play, food aggression and possession aggression. In y experience with party, he has neither.


This is Amanda Dickie. Your shelter redeemed a young dog named Party dog to me last November. I just wanted to let you know that he is the sweetest dog out there. And despite what your tests may have indicated, he does not have possession aggression or food aggression. He met my mother for the first time on the ride home and was eating chips out of her hand the whole way back.

When we arrived home we had him sitting and waiting for his food. Once or twice he jumped the gun and started eating before he had permission, but my 54 -year-old mother was able to control him without protest. After he got settled here everyone approaches him while eating and he is fine. My mother and I regularly take his food dish from him while he is eating and just waits for us to give it back.

He is learning to take treats from people gently. Whenever he is too rough, we take the treat back and try again until he gets it right. He has never growled, snapped or bitten anyone since leaving your shelter. We have four cats, who occasionally eat out of his bowl. When they do this, he sits back and waits for them to finish.

There is a constant flow of new and strange people in our house and party is excited and happy to meet everyone of them. He no longer jumps on people when they come to the door, and is happy when strangers approach him. He also loves small children and is extra gentle around them.

This dog is one of the kindest, gentlest and friendliest dogs I have ever met. Kids pull his tail, blow in his ears and pull on his cheeks, but he never retaliates with aggression.

We just wanted to pass along this message in hopes that you might reconsider using temperament testing as it is an unfair system that sets perfectly adoptable and loving dogs up for failure.

Thank you,
Sincerely Amanda
With Love, Amanda Dickie
"As long as people will shed the blood of innocent creatures there can be no peace, no liberty, no harmony between people. Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together."
- Isaac Bashevis Singer,Writer, Nobel laureate (1904-1991)

He is the sweetest boy I have ever met and he loves everyone. In no way is he "a danger to society".


  1. Congrats on saving what seems to be a very sweet and "adoptable" dog. I've gone back and forth on this issue of "testing", and have only come up with one answer that adjusts my disagreement, which is: so many shelters are under considerable amounts of strain due to the economy (surrender rates are more than double across the nation) that any gesture of aggressive nature will deem an animal "un-adoptable". I obviously never saw the "test videos", and sometimes human nature does not always shine. I am very happy for you, and would maybe thank the shelter for holding the animal until you came (even if you did have to argue ;P).

  2. That's the sad double edge sword with most no-kill shelters. Once they fill up they are forced to either shut their doors, and face public negativity for it Or they can use testing and other methods to justify cutting down their numbers. It sucks, but I understand why they do it. I just wish that they would have the courage to face negative feed back and do right by the animals in their care.