Dog Behavior in Animal Sheltering

Three research papers explain the flaws of shelter-dog behavior evaluations and why there are better ways to get to know the dogs in your care.

Our Research

Between 2016 and 2022, researchers reviewed existing studies on how a dog's personality or behaviors are evaluated in animal shelters. The results were released in three papers which are briefly summarized below:

The results were released in a three-part series:

A prequel to “No better than flipping a coin”

Reconsidering canine behavior evaluations in animal shelters

A new look at behavioral incompatibilities and dog relinquishment to shelters

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Adopt a shelter dog, Gen Z dog trainer

Are Behavior Evaluations of Shelter Dogs Reliable or Valid?

Our researchers systematically reviewed 17 published studies that attempted to assess the validity, reliability, or predictability of behavior tests of dogs in animal shelters. They found that neither validity nor reliability in any of the tests came close to meeting the standards required for useful diagnostic tests. 

This study confirms the findings of earlier reviews, that behavior evaluations of dogs intended for use in animal shelters are neither reliable nor valid enough to influence the care and adoption of dogs who are between homes. 


Are Behavior Evaluations of Shelter Dogs Predictive?

Our researchers argue that behavior evaluations for shelter dogs can never be more reliable than flipping a coin, even under unrealistically optimistic, hypothetical conditions.

They conducted a review of the literature on dog bites and owner surrenders and an analysis of the data. Their goal was to determine whether even a very good evaluation was statistically likely to yield results that might be helpful in making decisions about individual dogs. The result: it was not.

The researchers advocate against formal dog evaluations in shelters and instead advocate for focusing on behavioral histories, incident verification, and prioritizing positive activities where a dog’s social skills can be observed and practiced.

Research Library - Popular Articles - NCRC (1)
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Do Relinquishment and Behavior Evaluations Pathologize Normal Dog Behaviors?

This study addresses how behavioral incompatibilities between dogs and their owners affect the relinquishment of dogs to shelters and how the prevalence of behavioral incompatibilities as reasons for relinquishment is overstated and detrimental to placing dogs in homes. The researchers chose a title from a 2013 medical book by Dr. Allen Francis, Saving normal: an insider’s revolt against out-of-control psychiatric diagnosis, DSM-5, big pharma, and the medicalization of ordinary life.

The key takeaways from this research are that:

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Being loved and cherished is not incompatible with having some behaviors or habits owners might prefer dogs not have, if given the choice.

Saving Normal Authors

Bradley, Patronick, Arps

One person’s
"irreconcilable difference"
is another’s
“too cute for words.”