Choosing Your Next Dog From a Shelter Part 3

5. Taking a Test Run

The following tests can help you decide whether a dog might make a good family pet. Each test is progressive, so if a dog fails one test it is best to quit there and consider another dog. If you are not confident to do the tests alone ask a shelter staff member to assist you or take a long an experienced friend or professional. This is especially important if you are a first time dog owner. If at any time you feel uncomfortable or threatened by a dog, quit. It is better to acknowledge this feeling now then after you have had the dog at home for a week or two. There are of course no guarantees when choosing a dog from a breeder, pet shop or shelter however the following should help you to make an educated assessment.

Test 1 – In the Kennels – desire to approach

• Walk past the row of kennels not making any attempt to interact with any of the dogs. Without stopping or staring, note which dogs move forward to investigate.
• Next, walk past, stopping and crouching to ‘sweet talk’ to any of the dogs you are interested in. Are they coming forward in a friendly fashion – long sweeps of the tail, perhaps a lick of   the hand, soft eye contact, perhaps a submissive roll over?
• Put your hand out – does the dog lick it, follow it?
• Does he jump up and show any obvious signs of friendliness?

Test 2 – Outside the Kennel – desire to approach

• Put the dog on a lead (or have a staff member do so) and take the dog out to a relatively quiet area away from the other kennels and dogs to reduce some of the initial excitement.
• Hold the end of the leash keeping it as loose as possible while you stand still and completely ignore the dog. We want to see if the dog chooses to approach you without any prompting on your part. A people friendly dog should initiate contact within a couple of minutes.
• Note: a wagging tail alone does not necessarily indicate friendliness – a long, sweeping tail wag plus approach usually does .

Test 3 – Reaction to human touch

If all is going well – start applying long, gentle strokes along the dog’s back from neck to tail. Repeat several times then stop. Does the dog look to you for more or does he move away/avoid or freeze? Repeat the process two or three times. At all times watch and avoid signs of:
• Increased arousal/excitement
• Freezing
• Staring
• Mouthing
• Escape/avoidance
• Barking/lunging
Start to sweet talk to the dog. A good result would be the dog who chooses to stay with you and seems to be soothed rather then aroused by the physical petting. So far so good? Then it’s time to move on….

Test 4- Willingness to accept restraint and handling.

• Hold the leash a little shorter – does the dog struggle against you or show any signs of agitation or resentment?
• Gently but firmly, hold the collar for a minute or so. Does the dog accept being held for longer periods? If he resents it what is his first courses of action to pull away, roll over, or bite at your hand?
• If at any time you feel uncomfortable/threatened STOP.
• If at any time the dog seems to be excessively stressed/fearful STOP.

Test 5 -Reaction around food.

• Toss the dog a treat, does he take it then look back at you inquisitively for more?
• Offer a treat from the hand. Does he take it gently?
• Throw a treat on the ground – will the dog sit quietly at your feet and chew it or moves away and seems to ‘guard’ it?
• Throw several pieces on the ground then pick up one or two pieces closest to you – does the dog show any concern ?
• If you notice any signs of aggression such as stiffening, a hard stare, or growling STOP immediately.
• Proceed only if you feel really comfortable with the dog to Test 6.

Article courtesy of Karin Larsen Bridge, partner of Get S.M.A.R.T. Dog Training, Sydney.
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