Maddie's® Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell

Shelter Dogs  

Maddie's® Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell


Behavior Assessment of Shelter Animals

Behavioral evaluations involve obtaining as much information as possible about the animal entering your shelter, including his/her behavior prior to relinquishment and his/her behavior while in your facility. The more information you gather about an animal's behavior, the more able you will be to make sound decisions about its disposition.

Obtaining a thorough behavioral history from the relinquishing owner is the first important step. The types of questions you ask, and how you ask them, will dictate the usefulness of the information. The Canine Surrender Profile and the Feline Surrender Profile have been developed to ascertain important information about the relinquished animal's behavior in its previous home. It is also important to ask a few questions of a good Samaritan who brings in a stray animal to your facility using the Stray Animal Intake Form. Shelter staff should make an effort to go through the questionnaire with the owner to ensure that all questions are answered thoroughly and to gather additional information if needed.

In most shelters, each animal receives a medical exam prior to adoption. The Medical Assessment Form should be completed by the veterinary staff following the exam to indicate any sensitivities exhibited by the animal during the exam.

A Canine Incident Report or Feline Incident Report should be completed by anyone who has a negative experience while interacting with a shelter animal. This information will help guide your efforts to work with the animal's problem behavior as well as help with the decision making process in terms of the animal's disposition.

An important component in evaluating the personality, temperament, and adoptability of the shelter animals is to conduct a formal behavior evaluation. The Canine Behavior Evaluation*, Puppy Behavior Evaluation and Feline Behavior Evaluation procedures place the animals in several common situations with humans and conspecifics to elucidate their response. The information gleaned from such an evaluation can help match shelter animals with appropriate adopters as well as identify individuals who may not be suitable for re-homing.

If your shelter takes in feral cats it is important to evaluate their behavioral status during their holding period. The Feral Cat Behavior Evaluation Form and Feral Cat Policy & Protocol template can help you identify non-feral cats who were frightened into fractious behavior upon capture in a trap; semi-feral cats that may be appropriate for placement in barn homes; and truly feral cats that may be too dangerous to consider for placement.

* The Canine Behavior Evaluation is based on the work of Sue Sternberg. The evaluation should only be conducted by trained staff that has learned how to properly and safely perform the procedure and interpret what they are seeing in the dog.

Together, the Surrender Profile, Incident Reports, Medical Assessment, and formal Behavior Evaluation will give you a great deal of information that will assist in the decision making process about that animal.

Attempts should not be made to modify aggressive behavior that poses a safety risk to shelter staff and volunteers, or the general public. Shelters that place dogs back into the community should take the responsibility to place only safe dog. A policy that addresses aggressive dogs should be in place at your shelter. The Policy on Identifying and Handling Aggressive Dogs can be a guide for your shelter to follow.