Animal Shelter Uses Behavioral Tests To Assess Adoptability


Whenever someone is interested in adopting an animal from a shelter, he wants to know the personality of the pet. He wants to make sure that his environment is suitable for the pet’s temperament and that it will be a good fit.

Riverside County Department of Animal Services in California has been using a standardized test, the SAFER test, for the past six months to gauge a dog’s temperament and adoptability.

The test is usually done about three days after the dog has been brought into the shelter because that day is when the dog usually has the least amount of stress. The test involves pinching a scruff of the coat, darting back and forth in a playful manner, using a fake arm to gauge “food aggression”, and bringing in another dog to observe.

Riverside County is using this test as one of their tools to minimize euthanizing animals and increasing adoptions.

From Press-Enterprise:

“On the one hand, this tool is used to screen and protect the public,” said Robert Miller, department director. It assesses the likelihood that a dog will bite or attack other animals. It also is a standard to determine the adoptability of the animal, he said by phone. Miller said the test is based on science “to be able to evaluate their true temperament.”

Under Miller’s leadership, the county has a policy of keeping dogs for placement unless they have medical or serious behavioral problems such as viciousness that make them unsuitable for adoption.

The county has done some follow-up phone checks, comparing 50 tested and 50 untested dogs. People reported incidents of growling in 14 of the untested dogs and one of the tested dogs; seven untested and one tested dog bit but did not break the skin; and two untested dogs bit someone and broke the skin.

“I think that it is commendable for any facility to try to do all they can to make responsible adoption placements,” said Kim Intino, director of animal sheltering issues for the Humane Society of the United States.

5 Responses to “Animal Shelter Uses Behavioral Tests To Assess Adoptability”

  1. Lynne says:

    I understand the need for this but can’t help thinking about my latest adoption. I took my two schnauzers to the shelter to meet Joey. Joey initially growled at Dusty. I’m glad I didn’t let that influence my decision to bring him home. He has not had “issues” with Dusty at all and fits in beautifully with the family.

  2. Mary says:

    There is a lot of controversy about the SAFER test method among shelter professionals; suggest you look further into it. Many people feel this is not a fair or appropriate behavior test.

  3. John says:

    I adopted a dog nearly three years ago from a shelter who would have failed this test miserably and been needlessly euthanized. Abuse at the hands of humans and a lack of socialization had made her terribly afraid and she was a fear biter. Today she is a happy and well-adjusted dog. There has to be something better than killing every dog that fails a standardized test which never gets to the WHYs of the dog’s failure.

  4. lindsay says:

    My dog came from the Riverside shelter — I found him on the shelter’s website and, when I called to inquire about adopting him, was told that he’d failed the SAFER test and was ineligible for adoption. (Read: was going to be euthanized.) Luckily, a rescue group was able to pull him and I was able to eventually adopt him through the group once they determined he was NOT a behavior problem at all! I’ve now had him almost a year and he’s the sweetest dog I’ve ever had. I was told by both a worker at the shelter and a rescue volunteer that many dogs fail this test who are absolutely fine as soon as they get into an environment that’s not terrifying for them, like a shelter — where of course they’re not going to behave as they normally would. What really makes me angry about the SAFER test, though, is when I mentioned to the shelter worker that I didn’t think any dog I’d ever had, under these circumstances, would have passed the test as it was described to me, they agreed — and said further that more than half of the dogs fail, especially small dogs. This is causing the needless deaths of many animals and someone needs to put a stop to it!

  5. Does the “SAFER” Test Really Work? « Pet Defense says:

    […] December 18, 2008 · No Comments Riverside County Department of Animal Services in California has been using a standardized test, the SAFER test, for the past six months to gauge a dog’s temperament and adoptability. […]

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