Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bad Temperament Tests Kill Good Dogs

Dusty is slated for death because she, according to a veterinarian with an advanced degree as well (proof that graduate education does not make one an expert!), serves no "useful" purpose.

You can see the video of the dog's temperament test below, but I wanted to highlight a few things. I don't have a degree in veterinary medicine or animal behavior, so I'm curious why Dr. Katherine Houpt of the Monroe County Animal Control in Michigan missed some obvious behavior cues.

Now if *I* were the observer taking notes, here's what I'd write. I know enough about dog behavior to know that Dr. Houpt is as off base as a human being can get with a dog.

OH MY GOSH DOG IS CUTE! (I'd write this for pretty much all dogs but change the descriptor to spice things up).

Dog enters room: Exhibits normalized, inquisitive behavior in a novel, stimulating room. Tail wagging in a friendly manner, not flagging high, not tucked between legs. Nose and neck are forward, engaging the environment. See picture of curious dog here. Dog appears slightly stressed, as indicated by panting and pinned back ears.

Dog explores room: Dog is curious about room. Although panting, face is relaxed. Dog checks in with individual handling leash, indicating a willingness to engage with people.

Fake hand: Dog has back turned when surprised by fake hand. Dog reacts by turning towards the hand, sniffing, and playfully engaging the hand using both clear, friendly body language (lowered body, soft/relaxed grinning face, eyes not too intense) and interacts using her mouth. The mouth is used softly and not excessively, indicating a dog with bite inhibition but who could use behavior modification around real hands (note: soft hand is very similar to a toy, not a real human hand). Dog is slightly stimulated by interaction with fake hand but is quick to return back to previous behavior. You can note a playful dog in picture 8 here, which is an extreme version of this dog's behavior.

Dog engaged with humans: Dog is constantly seeking eye contact with the humans present and is always willing to engage in contact-seeking behavior with people.

Food: Dog is presented with a bowl of food. While eating, dog is stroked by fake hand. Dog's tail is at low mast and wagging in a friendly, semi-excited manner. Fake hand goes into dog's bowl twice, and then pets dog, hand goes in food bowl again, then pets dog again. At no point does dog negatively react to hand by using teeth. The fifth time the hand goes in bowl, dog exhibits semi-frustrated behavior but does not put teeth on hand. Dog exhibits avoidance behavior by walking away from hand and food but maintains a comfortable visage. At no point does dog attempt to redirect frustration onto fake hand or any human present. Dog engage in species appropriate behavior and redirects appropriately.

Doll: Dog sits appropriately to doll. Dog goes into a submissive, playful position when doll approaches, lying flat on the ground, tail wagging. Dog does not jump up or paw at doll. Dog is clearly stimulated and excited but also exhibiting submissive behaviors to doll. Aside from the extremely submissive "lying down" position, dog puts ears back and grins softly. Dog attempts several behaviors towards the doll, including appropriate appeasement face licking behavior.

When doll is presented in a stimulating manner by being bounced up and down, dog exhibits several different behaviors. Initially, dog engages in playful, attention seeking behaviors including playbows. Dog becomes slightly uncomfortable and redirects herself by engaging in avoidance behaviors including backing up, turning away from the doll, and using the human handler as a barrier. Dog is cornered but does not redirect onto doll. Dog seeks guidance and eye contact from human handler and continues to use him as a barrier. When doll is moved away and near the writer's arms, dog engages in appropriately curious behavior and sniffs doll.

Dog would benefit from training and socialization program that desensitizes her to playful children and teaches her to comfortably sit/lie down/etc when in the presence of actual children. Nothing indicates an overly aggressive or easily stimulated dog who prefers using teeth.

Strange person: Dog is clearly excited by the entrance of a strange, new individual in a novel, stimulating environment. Unlike with the doll, dog does display inappropriate, but modifiable behaviors, including jumping. When fake hand is used as a staff and slammed against the ground, dog reacts in a playful manner, lowering her front body to the ground, putting her butt in the air. Some might call this a play-bow.

Meeting Novel Dogs: Caveat: Both dogs were introduced inappropriately in a nose-nose fashion. For two new dogs, the best methods of greeting are allowing dogs to be in an open space and sniffing rear ends. Accidental or prolonged eye contact in a confined setting can exacerbate or create problems where none need exist. Despite this deficit in proper handling, both dogs react appropriately. Brown dog sniffs noses and immediately attempts to sniff the genitals of the second dog by slipping under. Brown dog would benefit from socialization and training to greet other dogs appropriately. Dog is excited by other dog but at no point does dog piloerect (indicating extreme arousal), growl, show teeth, or attempt to put teeth on skin. Dog does exhibit inappropriate behavior by jumping on other dog, but this is modifiable. Dog exhibits similar friendly behaviors to second dog. Most importantly, dog always re-engages with her handler indicating a strong desire to work with and be around humans.

Recommendation: Dog would be well-suited as an adoption candidate, given her ability to properly deal with novel, uncomfortable, stimulating and frightening situations. Dog would do well in an active home with an interest in pursuing organized dog training. Dog would do well in appropriate social dog play groups. Dog would do well with children. Dog must be around human beings. Prior to adoption, teaching the dog to sit when greeting would be ideal. Attempts at desensitization around young children should be made - teaching her to redirect into a sit or down when uncomfortable or a "watch me" will appeal to this dog's human-centered behavior (continually making eye contact with people, seeking them out, etc) and help reduce the likelihood of her becoming over stimulated. She would benefit greatly to a nothing in life is free approach, which should translate into mandatory sits before exiting and entering her kennel, working for her food, and appropriate levels of exercise until adopted. Great dog!

Instead the dog gets this:

Wiggled at approach, stare and squat. Bit hand when petted and when eating.
avoided witch
Snarled at doll
jumped but no aggression to male or female dogs
The results of the testing indicates that [...] one female  Dusty 206  who snarled at the doll should be humanely euthanized because of their lack of any useful purpose and the public safety threat they  pose.
Katherine Albro Houpt VMD PhD
Professor emeritus
Cornell University

Like is this woman even watching the same dog?

You can sign a petition for Dusty the dog here.

h/t KC Dog Blog

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