Problem Behavior Training Programs

Although problem behaviors are a common reason owners cite for surrendering their dog to a shelter, and many shelters do implement a modification program to resolve or minimize a dog's problem behavior, there has been little formal research to examine the characteristics of different problem behaviors and the effectiveness of various programs. The Center for Shelter Dogs has done extensive research in this area to help shelters understand problem behaviors and the effectiveness of treatment options and when to deploy them.

Food-related aggression in shelter dogs

Food-related aggression in shelter dogs: A comparison of behavior identified by a behavior evaluation in the shelter and owner reports after adoption

In order to assess the relationship between food-related aggression in the shelter as identified by a standardized canine behavior evaluation and owner-reported food-related aggression after adoption, this retrospective cohort study followed 97 dogs adopted from a shelter and their adoptive owners. The Match-Up II Shelter Dog Rehoming Program, a standardized canine behavior evaluation that was administered to all the dogs in the study prior to adoption, was used to classify dogs as either food aggressive (FA+) or not food aggressive (FA-). Adoptive owners were subsequently surveyed to assess the dogs' behavior after adoption, the owners' perception of food-related aggression, and their satisfaction with the dog as a pet. Twenty (20.6%) dogs evaluated were deemed FA+ in the shelter, and slightly more than half (11/20; 55%) of them were later reported by adopters as exhibiting FA+ behavior in the home after adoption. Of the 77 dogs that were deemed to be FA- in the shelter, 17 (22%) were reported to be FA+ by adopters. Conversely, the majority (60/77; 78%) of the dogs identified as FA- in the shelter were reported by adopters as not having exhibited FA+ behavior in the home (P = 0.004). Most adopters, including those whose dogs were reported FA+ in the home, did not consider FA+ behavior to be a challenge to keeping the dog as a pet. In conclusion, in this sample of shelter dogs, the observation of FA+ behavior during a standardized dog behavior evaluation was associated with FA+ behavior in the home following adoption. However, an almost equal number of dogs observed to be FAA+ on the behavior evaluation did not show food aggression after adoption. Failure to observe FA+ behavior on the shelter test was associated with the absence of FA+ behavior after adoption. The detection of FA+ behavior via a behavior evaluation should be interpreted with caution, since a positive finding in the shelter evaluation does not consistently indicate that the behavior will occur in the home nor that a dog is unsuitable for adoption. 

Read the full study here

Behavior training for excitable dogs

Excitable dog behavior is the most common (about 40%) behavior problem reported by shelters that use the Match-Up II Behavior Evaluation. Usually, this problem manifests itself as: pulling on leash; jumping on people; mouthing hands and arms; grabbing clothing; destroying household items; and not performing behaviors when cued, such as 'sit' and 'down'. Excitable behavior is a problem behavior that may be challenging to manage in a shelter environment and also often results in reduced interest from adopters. At the Center for Shelter Dogs, we evaluated whether a five-day behavior modification plan for excitable dogs reduces the frequency of excitable behavior during a standardized assessment. All dogs (N=29) in the study participated in daily playgroups and time outside their kennel; dogs in the experimental group also received individual training. The goals of the training plan were to reduce the dog's excitable behavior during interactions with familiar and unfamiliar people; improve the dog's performance of cues; and engage the dog in structured, interactive training games.

The Center for Shelter Dogs found that the group that received individual training in addition to playgroups and time outside of the kennel showed on average less excitable behavior than those dogs in the group that participated only in playgroup and time outside of the kennel. However, the results were not statistically significant. Sample size, environmental factors, or sample demographic may interfere with the effect of the modification plan. The length of the modification plan could not be sufficient enough to see the improvement as well. If behavior modification plans for excitable dogs are not effective, or if they require a longer period of time in order to be effective, shelters need to seriously consider these aspects before implementing training plans to modify excitable behavior. This study is in the process of submission; please follow our newsletter for more information.