New Research Reveals No Unique Behaviors in Shelter Dogs

Researchers find no valid data supporting a myth that keeps shelter dogs from being adopted.

The new study, "Saving Normal: A new look at behavioral incompatibilities and dog relinquishment to shelters," finds that shelters can stop spending their valuable resources on tests they call behavior evaluations because there is no evidence that shelter dogs are behaviorally any different from dogs living in homes. 

These findings, published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, should have a big impact on how animal shelters operate and on how society perceives shelter dogs.

"Whether a dog lives in a shelter setting or in a home, they are simply dogs who come with a mix of behaviors and are all deserving of human companionship," says National Canine Research Council's Janis Bradley.

The researchers, Gary J. Patronek of Tufts University, Janis Bradley of the National Canine Research Council, and independent consultant Elizabeth Arps, examined a dozen papers on pet relinquishment, six on dogs who were returned after being adopted,  and 14 studies on the behaviors of dogs living in homes. They found that there is no valid data supporting the prevailing belief that behavioral incompatibilities are a primary risk factor for owners surrendering their pets to shelters. 

Based on this, shelter workers can do away with rehoming policies based on unsubstantiated claims rooted in bias. They can let go of the myth that most dogs in their care are there because they have behaviors that would be problematic in a home. There is no need for them to use their valuable and limited resources on behavior evaluations attempting to identify behaviors that may either not show up in a home or be of no concern to the individual adopter if they do.

When those in companion animal welfare remove this unsubstantiated belief from their work, people considering a new pet are more likely to adopt dogs from shelters, as they will see them as they are, as positive additions to their families, rather than as potential problems.

The full study can be found at Science Direct and a summary is accessible on the National Canine Research Council website.

The paper is part of a threefold project that looks at the validity and reliability of behavior evaluations in sheltering. Previous publications in this series include "No Better than Flipping a Coin: Reconsidering canine behavior evaluations in animal shelters" and "What is the evidence for reliability and validity of behavior evaluations for shelter dogs?" 

National Canine Research Council is a non-profit canine behavior science and policy think tank. Its mission is to underwrite, conduct and disseminate academically rigorous research that studies dogs in the context of human society. We advocate innovative and practical canine policy based on verifiable data and remove barriers to safe and humane pet ownership.

Media Contact: Regina Lizik,

Source: National Canine Research Council

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