Temperament tests assess dogs for breed-specific behaviors or suitability for adoption from an animal shelter by observing the animal for unwanted or potentially dangerous behavioral traits such as aggressiveness towards other dogs or humans (see dog aggression) shyness, or extreme fear.
Temperament testing in wolfhounds is an old and proven form of a mild dog fighting used in young dogs to test their temperament. For example, an American standard for an Irish Wolfhound is defined as "a large, rough-coated, greyhound-like dog, fast enough to catch a wolf and strong enough to kill it." It states that "the breed's well-being demands strong, gentle hounds, never aggressive or shy, not even "edgy" ones. Edgy hounds are presently under control, but without their handler's constant control would surely at least retreat, or perhaps manifest worse characteristics of the weak temperament."
Typically it is practiced with larger breeds known in Russia as волкодав (literally: dogs meant for the hunting of wolves). These large breeds (such as Caucasian Shepherd) in Russia undergo the testing called тестовые испытания волкодавов (i.e. testing/examination of dogs meant for hunting wolves). The breeders believe that males used for breeding have to have preserved fighting ability and dominant tendencies because it is a typical mark of their breed. They also believe that weak dogs without fighting abilities will cause a decrease in quality of the breed.
As part of the test, breeders release two young dogs and let them behave naturally even if they begin to fight. If the fight looks dangerous, the breeders pull the dogs off each other to prevent their injury. If one of the participating dogs shows fear from the other dog and displays no dominant tendencies, he is removed from breeding to ensure his weak nature is not passed on to his descendants.
Recently in the United States temperament testing has been associated mostly with efforts to screen out potentially dangerous dogs from adoption by standardized testing. All tests of this type are subject to some level of local controversy because they can lead to euthanasia of dogs, because some pet owners say their own dogs would fail, and because shelters can report lower overall euthanasia rates by counting only "adoptable" animals.
This test involves use of the "Assess-A-Hand", a vinyl or latex mock hand and arm mounted on a wooden dowel, used to avoid bites to the tester who uses it to approach, pet, and then pull away a bowl or toy from the dog. The device was invented by Sue Sternberg, a longtime worker at a nonprofit animal shelter in New York. The test is typically given after a certain number of days at a shelter, with retesting after a failure and additionally after resolution of illness. In one widely publicized example, the ASPCA promoted an incident involving a dog, Oreo, found thrown from a rooftop in New York. The News reports were accompanied by photos of the brown and white dog with her front legs in casts. This triggered a flood of adoption offers and financial donations to help pay for her medical care. After accepting countless donations for Oreos care the ASPCA announced it would euthanize Oreo after she bit the "Assess-A-Hand" in repeated tests and lunged at another dog from a five-foot distance, all common in the stress of a shelter environment. The dog had received surgery to repair its broken forelegs and 59 45-minute sessions intended to reduce aggressiveness, but after several months it was found, by the ASPCA, too dangerous ever to be placed in a home. Although many reputable rescues and reputable trainers begged to take Oreo to rehabilitate her in a stress free environment the ASPCA declined and walked with its donations in her name.
A test under development by the San Francisco SPCA seeks to establish more rigorously standardized measurements - for example, how many seconds a dog takes to approach a handler or growls, and at what distance a response occurs at. A test in Kansas found that owners surveyed three weeks after adoption reported aggressive tendencies in 36 dogs not screened and 8 from a group screened by the procedure.
- Joel Samaha. "Judging Irish Wolfhounds". Irish Wolfhound Club of America.
- Barbara Robertson (2004). "Dog Is in the Details:The many sides of temperament testing". The Bark Issue 26 (subsequently 2004 ASPCA Humane Special Award for Dog Writing).
- "Manufacturer site (with photos)".
- Cristian Salazar (2009-11-12). "ASPCA: Dog thrown from roof too dangerous to live". Associated Press.