Finding your Family Dog

Thinking of getting a dog?

Did you know that you can find a wonderful family dog at the animal shelter? Whether you are looking for a puppy or older dog, large or small, mixed breed or purebred, the shelter has them all. What’s more, and what’s perhaps more important, is that shelters have available to them a method for evaluating dogs’ temperaments called Assess-a-Pet™.

Assess-a-Pet™ is the most tried and true method for matching potential adopters with a canine companion. Most people prefer to have a dog that will be less likely to be aggressive towards them, their friends, children and other pets. Assess-a-Pet™ can help flesh out aggression in shelter dogs. It also can tell you so much more. It can help match you with just the right dog by revealing:

  • The dog's intensity and arousal in chasing small animals or moving objects;
  • The amount of daily aerobic exercise the dog needs;
  • The amount of daily mental stimulation and physical affection the dog needs;
  • The dog's confidence/shyness levels in new situations and with unfamiliar people; and,
  • The amount of leadership, structure and guidance the dog will require to keep his own pushy or insecure tendencies in check.

Assess-a-Pet™ involves humane interactions with a shelter dog to evaluate his or her responses and thresholds to normal, everyday circumstances, such as: how tense he may get when petted, nudged or approached while eating; how tense he may get when petted, nudged or approached while chewing on a rawhide or pig's ear; how tolerant the dog is of having his body handled, of being hugged, and then being hugged for a period of time longer than he may want; how tolerant the dog is of being restrained, of being made to do something he doesn't want to do, or being held back from doing something he really wants to do. It evaluates a dog’s predatory excitement levels, how stimulated she gets by running, squealing things; how roughly she plays, how sensitively she handles her body, and whether she is brutal or gentle and respectful of her own size and the size of humans. A very important part of Assess-a-Pet™ is its ability to get a sense for how affectionate, loving, congenial and social the dog is. This is incredibly important, since the more social she is with people, the more tolerant of any of the above average discomforts she will be.

If you have children, or have friends or neighbors with children…

Assess-a-Pet™ aims to identify shelter dogs who have very high thresholds for all types of aggression. Dogs who are going to live with young children need to have long fuses. It is not sufficient that a dog be merely tolerant of young children; ideally a dog who will live with children will adore them. The reason for this is because all children, even very well-behaved and well-supervised children, will eventually do something to the dog that is invasive, past the point of what may be considered fair or tolerable. Assess-a-Pet™ is a way to be more sure your child does not get bitten or hurt at that moment of invasive interaction. Children who have positive, loving relationships with pets at a young age are more likely to become adults who are responsible, respectful, humane and caring.

While Assess-a-Pet™ can lower the risk of new adopters encountering aggression, it by no means guarantees against it. The shelter must follow up with you, the owner, to find out, in the home environment, whether the dog is settling in well or heading for an aggressive episode.

If your shelter or local breed rescue group does not yet use Assess-a-Pet™, there is a booklet you can use to guide you through your visit to the animal shelter. It will help you assess some of the above tendencies in the shelter dogs with whom you visit. It is called A Guide to Choosing Your Next Dog from the Shelter, it is available at the Shelter Shop (Great Dog Productions) for about $10.

Click on the links below for more information:

Your family dog

Training & behavior help