Can a dog in a shelter tell us how he will behave in a home?

When dogs come into animal shelters, some kind of assessment – whether it is formally recognized as such or not – inevitably takes place. At one extreme a formal appraisal may be carried out, such as the “SAFER” or “Assess-a-pet” tests.  At the other extreme, a shelter may rely on the informal impressions of their staff as the dog goes through vet checks and other intake procedures. A recent study argues that formal assessments are worse than useless and certainly the available tests have been little tested for validity or reliability. I will review the history of the different approaches and their pros and cons before concluding with suggestions on how to proceed in the critical issue of helping dogs find homes without harming people.