In 2013, I debuted a workshop at The ASPCA/Cornell/Maddie's Shelter Medicine Conference, along with my good friend and colleague Bert Troughton. The workshop was titled “Shelterer to Rehomer,” and we designed it to help shelter and rescue professionals learn the subtle shift from keeping animals safe in a shelter or foster home to moving animals from the shelter into adopter homes.
During one portion of the workshop, I outline policies that might restrict some dogs from having live exits. I asked folks to put their hands up if they required a dog-to-dog introduction prior to adoption—and about ¾ of the room put their hands up! This requirement is a great example of a policy that was designed for the shelterer as opposed to the rehomer.
In many cases, this requirement results in the dog staying at least one night longer in your shelter (longer length of stay means fewer lives can be saved… fewer animals who get to go home). Even worse, a potential adoption might not occur because the extra step involved in bringing the owned dog back to the agency can prove too much for some.
“In many cases, requiring dog-to-dog introductions results in the dog staying at least one night longer in your shelter. Long length of stay means fewer lives can be saved—fewer animals who get to go home.”
What is the goal of doing a dog-to-dog introduction?
When I ask this, the most common answer is the one you might expect—“to make sure the dogs get along.” This is usually followed by “the opportunity to educate the adopter.”
Let’s look at the goal of making sure the dogs get along. I would challenge the notion that observing the dogs interact in the shelter environment is an indicator of how they will behave at home. Home is full of resources to guard and changes in routine, things we will not see in the shelter. In fact, these intros may actually cause the adopter to feel as if the dogs will of course get along because the adoption agency, which required this dog-to-dog meet, “allowed” the adoption to occur. If there is a disagreement or outright aggression between the dogs in the home, these prior expectations will not be met… maybe resulting in an adoption with a lower likelihood of success!
I have heard of more than one incident in which the dog-to-dog intros went beautifully—and the dogs then had brutal fights in the car on the way home from the adoption agency.
Here’s how to set up realistic expectations for adopters
By eliminating the dog-to-dog introduction, we can set folks up for realistic expectations of what they might see with the two dogs in the home. If they do not have a neutral space to introduce the two dogs to each other, you can offer the service (in return for a small donation) of doing the introduction at your shelter. This way, the interaction is not about whether or not the dog can go home with the potential adopter, but instead about how to best manage these two dogs when they do go home.
Now, how about the goal of educating the adopter? In order to truly learn, most adult learners need to start with a basic principle—one of respect. Well…many folks have lots of knowledge about how their dog interacts with other dogs and are perfectly comfortable and happy to do the introduction on their own. How open will this person be to being “educated” when we have pretty much said to them, “Never mind what you think you know,” by making the introduction a requirement they must meet in order to adopt?
Again, if we shift the dog-to-dog introduction from a policy to a service for a small subset of those who request that assistance, now you have someone truly ready and open to your information.
Dog-to-dog introductions may have some utility. But the risks are too high to have them in place as a policy as opposed to a pay service—risks including the increased possibility that potential adopters may not transition into actual adopters, and the cost of keeping the dog in your shelter longer than he needs to be.
What are your thoughts and experiences around eliminating dog-to-dog intros?
Emily Weiss, PhD, CAAB
ASPCA Vice President, Research & Development
Dr. Emily Weiss’ work at the ASPCA involves developing programs and processes that focus on impact on animal welfare. In her previous work as a behaviorist, she developed training programs to improve husbandry and decrease stress for many zoo animals. She has also developed assessment tools for shelter animals, including the SAFER assessment and Meet Your Match Canine-ality, Puppy-ality and Feline-ality. Dr. Weiss is co-editor of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, and has published and lectured extensively in the field of applied animal behavior.
Cats Can Do Wha...?
Looking for a great way to get cats noticed? See if this idea from Dr. Emily Weiss rings a bell.
I’m Not Lookin’
Dr. Emily Weiss interprets behavior in a dog video gone viral—and encourages you to put your decoder ring on, too.
That’s Our Thing
Dr. Emily Weiss shares sage advice on how to interpret those unique behaviors in dogs.