Relinquishing owners are an important source of information about a dog’s behavioral history. In fact, a survey conducted by the Center for Shelter Dogs with 1,300 respondents from sheltering organizations found that 60% of them collected information about relinquished dogs from surrendering owners using a formal questionnaire or “intake form.”
However, as we have all experienced, the information provided by surrendering owners is not always accurate, especially if owners worry that every unfavorable behavior may cause the dog to be rejected from admission or lead to euthanasia.
In fact, past research by the CSD’s Senior Applied Animal Behaviorist, Dr. Sheila D’Arpino (formerly Segurson) has shown that owners reported owner-directed aggression and stranger-directed fear less frequently when they thought the information was going to be used by shelter staff to match the dog to a new home.
But this is not the only source of error. The intake form itself may contribute to inaccurate information. With that said, there are various tips and tricks that sheltering organizations may use in order to collect the most accurate information they can. Sheltering organizations should:
1 – Consider length – Overly long forms may overwhelm and frustrate owners, particularly at what is likely to be a difficult and emotional time; keep the form as short as possible. No matter the length of the form, consider sending it to relinquishing owners prior to bringing their dog to the shelter so they can bring the completed form with them. This minimizes stress on the owner and may enable more accurate information since owners can respond to the intake questions in a familiar and presumably less stressful environment.
2 – Question wording and response options – Questions which are clear, non-judgmental, stick to a single concept, and avoid a lot of specialized sheltering lingo will yield more accurate results. Decide which response option format will provide more accurate and useful information for each question: “closed ended” questions which provide options for owners to check versus “open ended” questions which owners fill in with their own words.
3 –Aim for a user-friendly design layout – Design is an important element to consider too: readable, nice-looking forms with a lot of white space and enough space to write answers in will make the process of completing the form more pleasant for owners.
4 – Consider how the form is introduced and/or ends; as shown by Dr. D’Arpino’s research, owners may be less than truthful depending on how they think you will use the information. At the Animal Rescue League of Boston, we require that owners sign the form indicating that the information they have provided is truthful, in the hopes that this will prompt more honest answers.
Of course, we cannot totally prevent people from providing unreliable information, but having the most efficient and user-friendly intake form, can help eliminate many biases in responses.
Download the CSD Intake Form to use in your shelter!