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Is This Dog Dangerous? Shelters Struggle With Live-or-Die Tests

Jan Hoffman: ‘Bacon, a cream-colored retriever mix, took a behavior test recently at an animal shelter here. He flunked. Bounding into the evaluation room, Bacon seemed like an affable goofball, ready for adoption. But as he gulped down food, Dr. Sara Bennett, a veterinary behaviorist, stuck a fake plastic hand attached to a pole into his bowl and tugged it away. Instantly, Bacon lunged at the hand, chomping down on it hard. Shelters have used this exercise and others for some 20 years to assess whether a dog is safe enough to be placed with a family. For dogs, the results can mean life or death. “If you failed aggression testing, you did not pass go,” said Mary Martin, the new director of Maricopa County animal shelter in Phoenix, which takes in 34,000 dogs annually. Between January and June 2016, 536 dogs were euthanized for behavior, most because of test results…

But now researchers, including some developers of the tests, are concluding that they are unreliable predictors of whether a dog will be aggressive in a home… “The tests are artificial and contrived,” said Dr. Gary J. Patronek, an adjunct professor at the veterinary medicine school at Tufts, who roiled the shelter world last summer when he published an analysis concluding that the tests have no more positive predictive value for aggression than a coin toss. “During the most stressful time of a dog’s life, you’re exposing it to deliberate attempts to provoke a reaction,” Dr. Patronek said. “And then the dog does something it wouldn’t do in a family situation. So you euthanize it”?’ SOURCE…

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