Open Letter for Policy Change

This is an Open Letter I sent to the Animal Control Officers and the Community Advisory Board at Minneapolis Animal Care and Control today regarding their policies on bully breed dogs.

To Whom It May Concern-

Last week a dog was posted on the volunteer run facebook page Friends of Minneapolis Animal Care and Control. This dog was tagged for “rescue only” as he is a Pit bull type dog. When I contacted MACC about pulling this dog, I was told only approved rescue groups are allowed to pull dogs. When asked how my rescue group could become approved, I was told that applications were only processed in the fall and to check back then. Meanwhile the dog remained on the web page becoming an increasingly urgent case by each day, since if not rescued he would be euthanized. Last I checked, a group will be coming forward tomorrow to take him, but I found this case upsetting for numerous reasons.

I want to express my concerns and frustrations with MACC’s current policy on bully breeds. First off, I see that MACC already adopts out other animals and that there is an application process and contract people must sign. As many of us who have been working with bully breeds for a number of years—and working with big organizations such as BAD RAP out of CA and Animal Farm Foundation out of NY—can tell you, “Thug America” is not coming to shelters to adopt their dogs. To not even allow bully breed dogs to be put up for adoption by the public is a huge disservice to the dogs. If MACC’s concern really is for the dogs, then make sure all bully breeds are spayed/neutered and micro-chipped prior to adoption and step up the criteria for adopters a bit by making sure they are homeowners or have landlord permission prior to adoption.

Another thing that concerns me is the message MACC is sending to the public about these dogs by only allowing them to go to rescue groups. It sends the message that these dogs are somehow damaged or different. It feeds into the misconception that these breeds of dogs are bad or to be feared; something that many of us have been working hard to change. I’m sure you could get some Certified Professional Dog Trainers or people experienced in understanding dog behavior to volunteer their time to evaluate and assess potential available dogs. Please look into people who are Certified through the ASPCA to conduct the SAFER assessment on dogs, or better yet, train your staff to become Certified. I know myself and possibly a few other trainers would be willing to assist in evaluating dogs and training your staff to evaluate future dogs.

Lastly, the fact that MACC only reviews applications once per year is very frustrating. There are many rescue groups that could be approved to handle these dogs in need and can’t because of bureaucratic red tape. I understand screening rescue groups to an extent, but when outdated policies get in the way of saving more lives, that’s when there needs to be a change. I’d also like to know the statistics on how many rescue groups have pulled dogs in the past that proved to be bad groups to create this policy in the first place.

If MACC isn’t going to change their policy on making Bully breeds available to the public (which would be best), then at least work on changing the policy about reviewing applications. I believe MACC should review applications as they are submitted. I’m sure some volunteers would be happy to work with your organization on checking references and conducting interviews if time management is an issue. Any of us who are in the animal welfare field know very well that funds are tight and resources are strapped, but there is always room for improvement. We are all here to Save More Lives, so why not do more to succeed in that goal!

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Aditi Terpstra

The only way we’ll see changes made in organizations like MACC is to contact them directly and voice our concerns. Please be professional in doing so, as name calling or negativity will not be helpful. If you’d like to see change, please go to MACC’s web page and contact the appropriate people. Do not take this matter up on the FB page, as that is a volunteer run page and the people we want to receive this message do not use it. Go to MACC directly by emailing them. Thank you!


Some things happen for a reason. It may just be coincidence, maybe serendipitous or as I’d like to believe, magical. Whether you believe in any of this or not, here’s a little story I’d like to share.

At the beginning of January, a stray German Shepherd was brought into the Winona Area Humane Society. He was tall, lanky and underweight. He reminded me so much of my Shepherd, Chance, when I first adopted him. As I do with all incoming dogs, I scanned him for a microchip, which he had, but I couldn’t find a registry for it. I then assessed him using the ASPCA’s SAFER assessment. He scored fine on the assessment items, but I could tell from his body language he was a bit fearful during some areas of it. I made a note of these behaviors and carried on with my business of the day, but I kept thinking of him. I was struck by how much he resembled Chance, not only in color, but in his personality. I could see the potential this dog had and I was hoping his owners, if they ever came forward, saw it too.

The next day I was in Rochester with Chance for a dog agility class. Before class we were walking around Rochester Feed and Country Store, which is below the training room we attend. The store was having an event that night so there were quite a few people inside. As we walked around we had a nice couple walk up to us and ask about Chance. They commented on Chance’s beauty and personality. As we talked I learned that the woman had Shepherds in the past and has always loved the breed. They expressed interest in possibly adopting a Shepherd in the future. I shared with them that I had adopted Chance as a ten month old puppy from Mississippi Valley German Shepherd Dog Rescue and that I still help out with the group when I can. Then I told them about the German Shepherd that had just arrived at WAHS. I explained that he was still in his reclaim period so there was a chance his owners would come forward and take him home. I gave them my business card and told them if they were interested in adopting a dog in the future I’d be happy to help them search for one.

The following day, the City of Winona’s Animal Control officer scanned the chip with her machine and was able to trace down where the chip was registered to. It turns out the dog’s name is Charlie and he had been re-homed three times since being chipped. We were finally able to contact his current owner, who came the following day to reclaim him. When Charlie’s owner arrived to pick him up, the man did not seem at all excited to get his dog back. Charlie was excited to see him, but the feeling wasn’t reciprocated. I know if my dog is missing, even for a half an hour, I’m very happy to have them home. So the fact that Charlie’s person seemed to care less bothered me.

Again, I kept thinking of Charlie and finally after two days, decided to call the man and ask how things were going with Charlie. No answer, so I left a message letting him know I’d be happy to offer training sessions for Charlie and him, to build their bond and train Charlie to be the dog he had the potential of being. In the end I also told him that if he ever wanted to surrender Charlie, I’d take him.That was that. I didn’t hear anything from anyone. Charlie would still cross my mind, but there was nothing more I could do.

Then on Valentine’s day morning I checked my email and found one sent from the woman whom I had met at the Rochester Feed store. She asked if I had remembered her and then said she couldn’t stop thinking about the German Shepherd that had been brought into the humane society. She wondered what happened to him and if he was available for adoption. As I was about to reply back to her letting her know that Charlie had been reclaimed, my phone rang. A co-worker from the humane society told me there was a young man wanting to surrender his GSD and he told her I had called him in the past. I knew right away it had to be Charlie! I told my co-worker to go ahead and take him. That I’d actually take Charlie into my rescue group, MN Pit Stop. I could not believe my luck…Charlie’s luck, so I emailed the woman back explaining what had just happened. She responded back immediately saying she had tears in her eyes and that she was very much interested in adopting Charlie. I needed to find out how he was with other dogs, kids and cats, since she had grandchildren that visited often. So I picked Charlie up and brought him home. Over the next several days, I put him through the gauntlet. I introduced him children, cats, other dogs and a lot of people. We walked around town, into businesses and took a ride through the car wash. Charlie handled everything in stride and didn’t show any behaviors that concerned me.

I made arrangements with the couple to come to my home and visit Charlie. True to the breed, Charlie bonded quickly with me, so he was a bit aloof to them when they arrived, but I assured them, all it would take is a few days and he’d be just as bonded to them. They decided to do a two-week trail adoption period with him, so a day later I delivered Charlie to their home. That was two weeks ago today. They are in love with Charlie and Charlie is happy to be a part of their family.

I want to thank the young man who surrendered Charlie to me for understanding Charlie needed more than what he could give and for making the decision to surrender him to me versus just putting an ad in the paper or on Craigslist. I want to thank the wonderful couple who gave Charlie a chance and took him into their family. I want to thank Charlie for letting me help him and for being such a good soul. Last but not least, I want to thank my own family, my cats and dogs for always allowing another foreign dog into their home and giving guidance, and my husband for being supportive and understanding as well.

Heavy Heart

Yesterday was a gloomy day for me, not just because of the gray, cold, fog-ridden weather outside, but because I was witness to two dogs being humanely euthanized. The first a young, very well-loved dog that was having exploratory surgery after a mass in his abdomen had been discovered. Upon opening him up, it was determined that the tumor was to massive and connected to too much to be removed. His owner opted to have him euthanized after weighing all the options and ultimately wanting him to go before his spirit was taken by illness. This handsome dog was only two years old and lived a rich and happy life. His owner is broken up and in despair for she lost her best friend yesterday.

If that wasn’t heavy enough, I then did a compassion hold for a dog who’s behaviors yielded her unadoptable. These decisions are never made lightly and are always excruciating for me.

With a heavy heart, I played one last round of fetch with her, provided her with a tasty meal and held her as she passed out of this world.

Many people ask what compassion holds are and why I do them. Compassion holds are just as they sound, it’s being there for another living being as they die. Showing that animal a gentle touch and love even when it seems the rest of world has given up on them.

Many animals that enter shelters come in as strays, their past unknown. In some cases, it seems obvious that the animal lived a hard life prior to arriving the shelter. They may not have known what a good meal was, what a gentle touch was or that people can be loving and caring.

In my profession, I always try to rehabilitate dogs to where they are adoptable, but there are some I can’t reach. Some that are to far damaged from previous experiences or faulty genetics and I can’t risk rehoming them where they may injure others or themselves.

Again, I never make these decisions lightly. So when the decision is made, the least I can do is be there for this creature who was brought into this world because of humans, who had the cards stacked against them from the start and where this is not their fault. This lovely creature deserves to feel compassion, even if it’s for the first time in their life.


Please go hug your family members (this means furry and feathered too), show them love and compassion, and treasure the time you have with them.

Clicker Training with Cats

I know there may be some skeptics out there who say cats can’t be trained. I am here to tell you otherwise. Cats can be trained and they actually thrive at it. Not only is it fun for both human and feline, but it’s a great way to develop and strengthen the bond between a person and their cat(s). Plus, it’s wonderful enrichment for the cat, both mentally and physically.

Why a Clicker: It accelerates the learning process and makes training more clear cut for your cat.

Reinforcement: a primary reinforcement is food. Keep treat sizes very small, half or quarter of a pea size. Make sure they are high value, tiny pieces of tuna or cut up chicken works well. Baby food (meat purees) works well too, just let your cat have a brief lick. Secondary reinforcements can be petting and playing.

Charging the Clicker: This is making a positive association between the clicker and the reinforcement. To do this, Click the clicker and then follow it up with a treat within one second of the click. Repeat this exercise for at least 15-20 repetitions. Now your cat will be classically conditioned that when he hears the clicker, good things will come his way.

Remember to reinforce your cat EVERY time you click him, even if it’s by accident because we don’t ever want the clicker to loose its value.

Now you can use the clicker to mark behaviors you want.

You will be using lures, shaping, and capturing behaviors you want your cat to repeat or offer more of. In most cases you will have to break the end goal behavior down into several steps, these are called approximations.

Let’s say we want our cat to learn to sit.

  • We can first lure the behavior by showing the cat a small treat and then raising it above their head and then slightly towards their back so that they will naturally want to sit back on their haunches.
  • As soon as their rump touches the floor, Click and give them the treat.
  • Do this three times in row, clicking and rewarding for each successful Sit.
  • Then try the hand motion without the food lure.
  • If your cat is successful, click and then immediately grab a treat and feed.
  • We want to move away from food lures quickly because otherwise it becomes a bribe and your cat will only perform the behavior when food is present.
  • After your cat is predictably sitting in position with your hand signal, now you can add the verbal cue, Sit.
  • Here is the sequence of events: Fluffy Sit-pause-hand signal-cat sits (Click)-Reward!
  • Another way to teach the Sit, is to capture it. Wait for your cat to naturally sit, then Click and reward. Once you can predict when your cat will sit again, you can give the verbal cue right before they offer the behavior.

If you’d like to teach your cat to walk on leash, the first step is getting the cat acclimated to wearing a harness. This can be done through approximations. It’s best if the cat will naturally harness themselves.

  • The initial step is get your cat to Target onto the harness by himself. Have the harness, clicker and treats ready.
  • Sit near your cat.
  • Hold the harness up, if your cat looks at the harness or better yet touches it with his nose, Click and reward.
  • Take the harness out of view from the cat immediately after clicking.
  • Then present the harness again and wait for your cat to target onto it. Repeat several more times.
  • Through approximations you can get your cat to put his nose in the head hole, then his entire head. In those steps, be sure to click when the cat’s nose or head is through the opening and treat in that position. You can also lure your cat into sticking his head through the opening on his own. Only allow him access to the treat if he sticks his head through the opening, as soon as he does, Click and reward.
  • Eventually you’ll be able to clip the harness into place.
  • Next attach a leash and let your cat drag the line.
  • At the first movement, click and reward. Try tossing a treat for the cat to walk to, when he does, click right before he gets to the treat and eats it.
  • Then the next step is to encourage the cat to follow you. You can use a food lure at first or a toy to drag.
  • Click when he’s following and then reward.

You’re now on your way to having a cat that walks on leash. These steps may take several days to weeks to accomplish. It depends on your time, dedication and patience.

There are endless things you can teach your cat: roll over, lie down, jump over obstacles, high five or shake, come when called etc…Remember to break behaviors down into easy to teach steps. Don’t rush your cat and keep sessions short, 1-5 minute sessions, no more.

To add value to your cat’s reinforcements, keep your cat on a regulated diet and keep some high-value toys in reserve for special training sessions. Look, a water fountain that is great for your cat. I’m sure you’ll agree this is a wonderful gift for your cat.

Happy Clicking!!!



Rocket Recall: Part III

If you haven’t already, get started with parts I & II:

Rocket Recall: Part I
Rocket Recall: Part II

This is the final installment of Rocket Recall. This week we will talk about pressure and distractions with our dogs. Even with all the best preparation and practice, there will be times when your dog will not want to come away from something. This is where pressure comes into the equation. It is very important that our dog comes when called, like previously stated, this could save his life someday.

Again, we want to make sure our dog is ready for this next step before we get started. If your dog has not accomplished the first two levels of Rocket Recall, then they are not ready to begin this level. Each level can take weeks to accomplish, so don’t be in a rush. Be patient and practice, practice, practice!

Have a long-line attached to your dog when training this next level. 30-40 feet is an appropriate length for the line. Be sure the line isn’t to heavy for your dog. If you have a small breed dog, you may need to make your own long-line, which is easy enough to do*.

You’ll be enlisting the help of another person for this training as well.


  • Have your helper distract the dog with some low-value treats and then call your dog to come.
  • Your helper will stop treating and ignore your dog.
  • You will reward your dog with higher-value treats when he comes to you.

To step this up.

  • Have your helper open their hand with treats, when you call your dog this time, your helper will keep their hand open.
  • If your dog doesn’t respond within 3 seconds and come off your helper, you’ll pick up the long-line and gently reel them in. Again rewarding heavily when your dog comes all the way into you.
  • Do not yank your dog away
  • Do not scold him for not coming on his first try
  • Do not repeat the cue to come multiple times.
  • DO reward your dog heavily when he comes to you–with treats or toys.
  • DO be animated with your dog so that you’re more appealing to them–cheerful voice, clapping hands, kissing noise, and running away from your dog will elicit more attention.

For adding distraction, build on the Running Game.


  • Have your helper run away from your dog and entice them to follow.
  • You call your dog to you, your helper stops and stands still, ignoring your dog.
  • When your dog comes to you, reward.

The next step is to have your dog come even when your helper continues to run. For this, you’ll use the long-line again.

  • Have your helper run at a slower pace or a brisk walk, so that your dog won’t be following at a fast pace.
  • Call your dog, your helper will continue moving forward, but will stop enticing the dog to follow.
  • You’ll give your dog 2-3 seconds to respond, if they don’t, pick up the line and reel them in.
  • Reward your dog heavily when he comes to you.

We can’t stress enough how important it is to use high value treats, such as cut up pieces of meat, as reinforcements for your dog. Or to use high-value toys that your dog doesn’t get to play with on a regular basis. You have to be more interesting and rewarding than the other distractions in your dog’s environment.

*For long-line help, please contact me.

Rocket Recall: Part II

Be sure to check out Rocket Recall: Part I!

Now that you’ve established with your dog that hearing their name and coming when called is FUN! You can move on the next level of training a Rocket Recall. Just as stated in the last article, there will always be competing motivators in your dog’s life. “Should I go to my person or go smell this really interesting bug over here?” We want our dog’s answer to be “go to my person” every time.

During the first level of Rocket Recall training we didn’t want to call our dogs off anything fun or call them to us and then do something non-fun with them. We wanted to build a very positive association with coming to you. We are now going to up our game with our dogs.

In this next level, we will be adding distraction and arousal. It’s important to move onto this next level ONLY if your dog is ready for it.

We will now set our dogs up in controlled environments, practice in fenced in areas or have our dog on a long-line to prevent them from running away.

  • Have a friend or family member assist you for level II training.
  • Your assistant will have some treats on hand (preferably of lower value than your treats at the start).
  • They will lure your dog away from you and feed some of the treats.
  • Then you will call your dog’s name, when you do this, your assistant will stop treating and ignore the dog. This means no eye contact with the dog or motion of any sort.
  • Repeat your dog’s name once more if needed, as your dog turns towards you, use encouraging body language and sounds to get your dog moving in your direction (squatting down, open arms; kissing noises, squeekers).
  • As s/he does, use your Recall word.
  • When your dog reaches you, praise lavishly and give small, high value treats for a solid 30 seconds.

Your dog learns in that moment that coming to you even when there are other distractions is more reinforcing!

We will now do the same exercise but, in addition to distraction, we’ll be adding some arousal too.

  • Have your assistant encourage your dog to chase them, maybe have them entice your dog with toy if they aren’t interested in the chase.
  • As your dog is chasing your assistant, call your dog’s name once.
  • In that instance, your assistant will stop and freeze. Toy goes away and the person ignores the dog.
  • Call your dog’s name once more if needed, encourage your dog to come you using body language and sounds (squatting down, open arms; kissing noises, squeekers).
  • As your dog moves towards you, use your Recall word.
  • When your dog reaches you, praise lavishly and give small high value treats for a solid 30 seconds.
  • Note–If your dog seems to enjoy chasing people, you can run the opposite direction of your dog to encourage him to come into you at a faster pace.

Next: Rocket Recall: Part III

Rocket Recall; Teaching a Dog to Come: Part I

Rocket Recall; Teaching a Dog to Come: Part I

Having a dog come to you when called is one of the most important cues for any dog to know. This cue can save a dog’s life. Yet, many dogs have what we like to call “selective hearing”; they come when they want to. The reasons behind a dog refusing to come when called depends upon the competing motivators and the dog’s previous experiences. For instance, if you are at a dog park with your dog and you call for your dog, you have the competing motivators of the other dogs around him. Plus, if the only times you call your dog to come to you is when it’s time to leave, which is no fun for your dog, you have previous experiences that your dog perceives as negative. He’s going to continue to play with his buddies and ignore you. We have to reinforce coming HEAVILY at the start and always make sure we’re keeping it fun for the dog.

Here are some pointers to follow when first teaching a rock-solid recall:

  • Do Not call your dog away from something that is fun for them. (e.g. playing with other dogs, eating a meal, chasing a toy etc…)
  • Do Not call your dog to you to do something they don’t like or is non-fun; such as: nail trims, bath time or being crated.
  • Instead go and get your dog, because you’ll probably have to anyway if they haven’t had proper recall training up until this point. We don’t want to poison the cue.
  • Always have reinforcers on you when you’re working on recall training. Reinforcers are what the dog likes, not what you think the dog likes. Food is always a great choice because it’s a primary reinforcer for all animals.
  • When practicing in open spaces, always have your dog on a long-line for safety.
  • I do not advise using shock collars or other aversive training devices, since many dogs develop behavioral issues when such items are used on them.

Your dog should know his name well, which is the first step for recall training. Practice the Name Game with your dog to develop a strong association between their name and good things happening! Check This Out for private training sessions for your dog.

Name Game:

  • Grab some treats or do this at meal time and use your dog’s kibble. One of the most popular dog treats are sausages for dogs which are made specifically for your fur baby.
  • Toss a treat to the floor, once your dog eats the food, say his name once, when he turns his head to look at you, say YES! and toss another treat to the floor.
  • Continue this game until your dog is whipping his head around to look at you.

The next step is to only say the word Come when your dog is moving towards you. (Note: If you’ve been using the word Come in the past for your dog and he hasn’t  responded, I suggest you start teaching the recall using a new cue word, such as: Here, Front, Pronto, Hurry etc…)

  • Again you can toss a treat, only a little further away this time.
  • Your dog will go out after the treat.
  • This time as he finishes, say his name, when he gives you his attention, take few steps backwards whilst kissing to him or patting your leg, encouraging him to follow you, when he does, say Come.
  • When he gets to you, say YES! and directly hand feed him a treat.
  • Then repeat.

Check out the whole series:

Rocket Recall: Part II
Rocket Recall: Part III

The Jumping Canine

The Jumping Canine

We’ve all been there, you walk into a room and bam, paws are assaulting you. Sometimes this is welcomed, but more often than not, it’s considered rude and can even be dangerous if the dog is large and knocks you over.

So why do dogs insist on jumping on us? Don’t they know it’s rude behavior?! Well, to them it’s not rude and if they’re not taught how to appropriately greet people, they will continue to jump on us.

Dogs jump up on us for multiple reasons, most often out of excitement to see us and wanting to be closer to our faces to smell and lick us like they might do to a dog friend.

If we don’t teach dogs an alternative behavior and just reprimand the jumping behavior, we may not get through to the dog what we want or worse our dog may start to fear us.

We don’t want to punish our dogs for being excited to greet us, but we also don’t want to reinforce a behavior we don’t like. That’s where teaching desirable behaviors to our companions is favorable for both humans and our canines.

The first step is preventing the dog from jumping on us at all; we need to be proactive with our dogs. If they are able to rehearse the action of jumping, they will continue to repeat those actions. And if they are repeating those actions, it is because they find the outcome rewarding.

Preventing the jump is simple, but not always easy. Here are a few tips to help with jump prevention.

  • Keep a leash on your dog when you’re home, so that you can easily step on the leash or take up the leash when people come into the home.
  • Tether your dog when guests arrive and tell your guests to approach your dog in an appropriate manner, if your dog starts to jump, have them turn away from your dog immediately. Turn back towards the dog when he has all four paws on the floor. Do this yo-yo approach until the dog is keeping all fours on the floor to receive a greeting.
  • Keep some of their meal set aside with a few goodies added, when you arrive home or when guests arrive, toss the food on the floor to keep your dog’s attention directed downward whilst creating a positive association with guests coming into your home.
  • Make use of baby gates. If you get home and fido loves to jump on you, use a baby gate or exercise pen to keep him from greeting you right at the door. When his feet are planted, you’ll greet him, otherwise ignore him.
  • Teach him to retrieve a toy. Then keep a few special toys stashed away and only bring them out when people come to the door. Toss a toy to direct your dog’s attention to do something other than jump.
  • Teach a reliable Sit or Down. Known as an incompatible behavior, dog’s can’t be jumping if they’re sitting or laying down.
  • Teach your dog to “jump” on cue. By teaching them to jump, you can easily teach them an “off” cue as well. Not only that, but after dogs learn to jump on cue they are less likely to offer the behavior unless it’s cued up.

Last, but not least, be sure to heavily reward and at a high rate for when your dog is offering other behaviors besides jumping. By rewarding what we like, our dogs are more likely to repeat what we’ve rewarded in the past.

Many of the above tips can and should be combined to increase the chances of your dog succeeding.

For more details about training, please contact me to set up a training or behavior session.


Fundraiser for MN Pit Stop

Come join us for an evening of worldly affair and to support our friendly canines. Proceeds support MN Pit Stop, a local rescue group dedicated to educating the public about the “bully” breeds, helping dogs in need and providing people support for their dogs through training, behavior work and medical care.

Guest Post:
to support Pit Bulls and MN Pit Stop a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about this sweet breed! Affordable Art ~
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GIFTS with HEART for those your love!

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Interested in traveling to India this winter? Contact Kim now!

SUTRA is proud to support MN PIt Stop, who provides education to the public about pit bull type dogs, specifically the American Pit Bull terrier (APBT). They also provide advice and training for Pit Bull owners.

Learn more:


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The Myth of Temperament

Recently there has been a video circulating on the internet about a “temperament test” that was performed on a pit bull in MI.

After the test, the pit bull was deemed un-adoptable and fated to be euthanized. There has been an uproar about the test and the results it yielded. Rightfully so; I agree that what I saw on the video would not have deemed the dog un-adoptable at the shelter I work with, nor at the Pit Bull Rescue I run. But the comments posted as a result of this video have been very negative towards assessments in general and that is where I would like to set the record straight and address some common misconceptions.

Aggression Assessment vs. Temperament Test

Before I go into any more detail, I want to clarify something: temperament tests and aggression assessments are two completely different animals! Temperament, by definition is something that can not be changed; it is more or less innate to the animal. Behavior, on the other hand, is influenced by environment, experience and genetics and can be influenced and modified by all of those factors. Aggression is a behavior, not a personality or temperament trait. Aggression can be influenced and changed depending upon circumstances and environment. There are, of course, some degrees of aggression exhibited in individuals which can be to difficult to manage and therefore make the animal un-adoptable, or at least unmanageable for the average owner.

Assessments can be–and have been–very useful in predicting the likeness of a dog aggressing once it’s in a home, but much depends upon the assessment that is used and how it is performed. To my knowledge there are only two aggression assessments that have any research and data to back up their usefulness and probability findings. The one I am most familiar with–and certified to perform–is the Safety Assessment For Evaluating Rehoming (SAFER) that was designed by Dr. Emily Weiss.

More often than not, though, people refer to aggression assessments as temperament tests. The flaw is that, again, temperament can’t be changed. Behavior–such as aggression–can be. Temperament tests usually have a pass/fail scoring with no in-between. For true aggression assessments, such as SAFER, there is no pass or fail. It is simply a tool to give the assessor information about that dog in that given time and environment. The assessment looks at the probability that dog has of aggressing under different stimuli. EVERY dog is capable of biting; we want to know–when given the choice through body language–if the dog will choose to “tell us” they are uncomfortable with something we’re doing, and how they will let us know.

A universal assessment language

The SAFER assessment was designed after many hours of work, research and data were complied to find out if certain things we do with dogs are more likely to yield aggressive behaviors. The dog is always given a choice and is never forced to do anything they don’t want to or like. Assessors should have a knowledge of dog behavior and body language before performing SAFER. In fact, it’s best if assessors are certified to perform SAFER first. By having a certification process, it’s ensured that the handler is consistent in their handling skills. It also gives consistency to the program by offering a universal language of behavior and information.

The information gathered during each assessment is purely objective. There is no subjective language, such as:

“the dog seemed relaxed or playful”

because everyone’s definition of “relaxed and playful” will be different. Compare that to the description,

“the dog’s body was loose, his mouth was open, eyes were soft.”


“the dog went into a play bow and did soft huffing and popping of body motion.”

These provide a clear image of what the dog was doing, leaving individual interpretation out of the data.

A consistent environment

There are guidelines that need to be met by the assessor, the room and items used for the assessment as well, so that everything stays consistent and gives the dog a fair shot at showing natural behaviors.
Because there is no pass/fail, each organization that incorporates a true aggression assessment into their programs can then take the information obtained from the assessment and determine what resources they have to aid that dog.

Some organizations will have greater resources for working with dogs exhibiting aggressive or potentially aggressive behaviors, others will require outside resources and, in some cases, dogs may be too aggressive to responsibly adopt out. Humanely euthanizing them is always the last resort.

One case at a time

Aggression assessments offer rescues and shelters a means to individually evaluate each dog that comes through their organization, and determine what resources are required to find the dog a home. Failure to assess dogs in shelter situations can mean missed behaviors and problematic adoptions.

Lastly, dogs are dogs, no assessor properly performing aggression assessments should say that a given behavior is expressed because the dog is a certain breed. Every dog is an individual case and fate should never rest on breed alone.

The German shepherd is a popular breed of dog, known for its loyalty, intelligence, and protective nature. Originally bred in Germany for herding sheep, the German shepherd is now one of the most popular breeds in the world. German shepherds are often used as working dogs in various fields, such as law enforcement, search and rescue, and assistance for the disabled. They are also popular pets and make excellent family dogs. German shepherds are large dogs, with males reaching up to 26 inches tall at the shoulder and females up to 24 inches. They have a strong, muscular build, and their coat can be either short or long-haired. German shepherds are intelligent and easy to train, but they need plenty of exercises and may not be suitable for homes with small children or other pets.

Last Note

In regards to the video posted above of the MI pit bull-type dog. Nothing is this video met the guidelines for the ASPCA’s SAFER assessment. My personal opinion is that this dog was not given a fair assessment at all and was extremely stressed during the “test”. Yet the dog chose to move away and act appropriately many times.