Helping Shelter Dogs Through Behavioral Evaluations: A Case Study from Belgium
The life of shelter dogs can involve a lot of uncertainty and instability depending on the dogs’ personalities. If a dog has a temperament that some might consider to be excitable, aggressive, or just generally high-energy, it may be challenging to place that dog in a home. Sometimes dogs are brought back to shelters because their new human companions do not know how to deal with them. To try to ameliorate this situation, many shelters have implemented behavioral assessments that are meant to determine the “adoptability” of dogs, and to be able to better inform potential adopters about the canine they are taking on. The idea is that if dogs are not correctly assessed (or not assessed at all) they may be adopted into homes that are more likely to relinquish them back into the shelter system, contributing to an unhealthy cycle.
This study of EU member states, with a special focus on Belgium, looked at the consistency of shelter behavior assessments. This was carried out through a literature and legislative review, and a survey of Belgian shelters. The researchers of this fairly thorough study found that “at scientific, EU, and national levels, concrete measures must be taken to implement validated behavioral evaluations of shelter dogs,” with the goal being “the creation of a more favorable environment within the shelters (increase in staff numbers, educational and sensitization programs for staff and future owners, kennel enrichment, pre-and-post-adoption training).” Though behavioral assessments were employed at various times and in different contexts, there was considerable room for improvement.
For companion animal advocates, the downside of behavioral assessments is that they present a situation where animals may be labelled “unadoptable,” when in actuality they just need better care and closer, contextual attention. The conclusions of this study seem to point to a more holistic approach with behavioral assessments: when “troubled” dogs are identified, there are various ways (kennel enrichment, pre/post-adoption training) that shelters can help to better their chances of rehoming success.