Behavioral Assessments in Shelters

  For a long time now, I have performed behavioral assessments for rescue groups and shelters to help them learn more about a dog’s personality and potential issues.  Recently, I had been asked what I feel about the different tests out there. I have been researching the data on each of them and decided to put them to the test. My first test was the Sue Sternberg Test or Assess-a-pet test. You may be surprised to hear the results.

The Sue Sternberg Test: Epic Fail

  Many of you may not realize that Sue Sternberg said her own dogs would not even pass her test, but sadly, hundreds of shelters use this as their standard testing for decisions on life or death of an animal.  How can we use a test that even the founder claims to see as a death test?  Interestingly, I found another article that talked about this death test. In it, they quote  Jean Donaldson as making the comment that, “We couldn’t get Sue’s test past the reliability issue, 4 out of the five dogs tested with the Sternberg test and deemed unadoptable, did fine.”

  Of course after reading this, I tested my own pack using this method. I had an intern perform the test as to not “taint” the results. Needless to say, my pack, the dogs that help others every day and live peacefully together, would have all failed her test. My biggest surprise:

  Takoda, my 2 year old f/s husky. Takoda has no history of aggression, is highly sociable and is used every day in private sessions to help other dogs overcome their issues. Hundreds of clients can back this.  The results of Takoda’s assessment using this test declare her:

  • Unsociable
  • Unsafe to handle
  • Dominant

  Had Takoda been tested using this method, she would have been killed. I can’t even begin to imagine how many dogs are killed unnecessarily because of this test. The Assess-a –pet test indicates whether a dog is “submissive” or “dominant”. There is no room for outside variables in this test; it is simply black or white.  

  For example, one test is to hold a dog’s muzzle closed for a count of 5, and repeat it 5 times. If the dog struggles to get away it is deemed “dominant”. This is a death sentence for the dog, instead of noting the dog may have some facial sensitivity and suggesting a program, the test than goes on to say if you could not perform it to hold on longer with a little more strength. What this test does is ignore the fact that we are threatening and provoking them and immediately suggests the dog unsafe to handle. The test may end here which means the end of their life as well.

  Another part of the test tells the assessor to ignore the dog and just hold the leash. If the dog does not acknowledge the assessor within 60 seconds, the note says the dog will unlikely tolerate handling, touching or unwanted affection. Really? Most of our pack members walked around for 2 minutes and did not acknowledge the assessor. Why? Because they were not being invited to. How many dogs that have received proper training, got loose from a yard and picked up by animal control, were tested and killed for not having the “social ability” within 60 seconds? I know many owners work hard at teaching their dogs to be calm around strangers, isn’t that what we want?  I think people need to be forewarned about this test and ask their local shelters what test they use. If your well trained calm dog is ever tested they may be killed for being polite.

  I will be testing other dogs with the other tests over the next few months, please stay tuned.

Tara and the “pack”


The latest slam to our bullies

A friend of mine, Lori Hilton Brizius, used to be the director of Laredo Animal Protective Society until five days ago. She was a tremendous bully breed advocate and now in just 5 short days of her not being in charge, they have already made a directive to not adopt out any bully breeds. This is devastating for her, and for all of us bully breed advocates.

As so many of us have seen, more and more shelters are closing their adoption doors to our “Nanny Dogs”.  That is what they were considered afterall, if you look back in history the bullies were all pictured with their little humans, standing proudly and lovingly next to them.

One of my favorite new articles :  “For over one hundred years, Americans knew “pit bulls” for what they did best. Babysitting.” – Yonah Ward Grossman; has fantastic pictures and says it best by saying, “The most tolerant, patient, gentle breed of dogs is now embarrassingly portrayed as the most dangerous. It would be funny if the new reputation did not mean 6,000 are put to death every day, by far the highest number of any other breed euthanized.
That’s a lot of babysitters.”

I find it disheartening to know that a shelter that had success adopting out our bullies, has now shut the door completely to them. One by one, shelters are quickly becoming mass murder arenas for one of the most misunderstood dogs out there. We are seeing pure hatred at its best here, the cruel reality of how badly our shelter systems need to change. Breed prejudice, cold-hearted, malevolent employees paid to show compassion and care to helpless animals who cannot speak for themselves; instead taking the front line on the slaughtering of an entire breed (s).

Did we not learn anything from the past? Our ancestors targeted Bloodhounds, German Shepards, Dobermans, even St. Bernards at one time. They learned it was the human not the breed, but not this generation of shelters. Bull breeds have been the victim of the media for years, sadly humans fall for eye catching morbid headlines. This leaves room for the malicious shelter staff members to continue their annihilation of a breed so many of us love and try so hard to protect.
I too, like many of my bully fans, stand on the front line; but we stand on the Bully side of the war. < The compassionate, caring and determined side.>

Join me in my persistence. I will be writing Laredo about this ridiculous act, will you?

for the address: 2500 Gonzaelz St, Laredo,Tx 78040

The email:

the board presidents email is:

another board member is:  

The city manager is:

Deaf, Blind & Deaf and Blind dogs. They deserve a chance.

Deaf, blind and deaf & blind dogs. They deserve a chance.

  For the last 23 years, I have been working with all types of issues in the canine world. I use the tag line, “specializing in misunderstood dogs” because so many people truly do not know how to communicate with our canine family members. Through the years, I have been asked to take on dogs that range from “rage” point, to rude dogs, to disabled dogs. They all have a special place in my heart, but my disabled dogs hold the record for most “misunderstood” dogs out there.

  I am continuously called by shelters about dogs that will be killed simply because they have a disability.  This hits a very hard nerve in me, because I have heard so many people tell me the human species is by far the most compassionate, caring species out there. Really?  How can we claim to be compassionate when we will kill an innocent animal because they cannot hear, or possibly cannot see? Dogs are amazing creatures, we all know this. They do not hold on to their “disability”, they simply adjust and carry on just as any other dog will.

  I had been asked to write an article about deaf dogs and aggression for the AKC delegates when they were fighting to get deaf dogs in agility competition. I did so last year, but still today I receive calls about dogs that will be killed in our shelters, for no other reason than loss of hearing. These dogs are friendly towards people and dogs, have a zest for life just as their hearing brothers and sisters, but yet they are the first to be killed because of a disability we believe can make them “unpredictable”.

  I have dealt with thousands of dogs for aggression issues; they come in all shapes and sizes. No specific breed, no specific sex, and certainly not all of them are disabled. ANY dog can and will show aggression if not trained properly, even a Golden Retriever.  To simply use a disability as an excuse to kill, is quite frankly, ridiculous.  The big issue people have with disabled dogs, the dreaded “startle aggression” that they say, “all disabled dogs have”.  This type of aggression is not just seen in disabled dogs as so many people want you to believe. How many of you have older dogs that sleep soundly or have lost their hearing and have snapped or growled at you for moving too closely.  Some of my clients have young healthy dogs that will do the same thing. Why? Simple, they have not been conditioned properly to expect the unexpected.  We never think about this until a problem erupts.

  I assess many rescue and shelter dogs for adoptability and on my assessment test I include a series of “startle” items, as most behaviorists will. Why, because ANY dog can have “startle” aggression. It is not limited to disabled dogs. If one of these dogs, mostly healthy, hearing and seeing dogs, shows startle aggression, we start them on a behavior modification program. So why would you not offer the same options and opportunity to a disabled dog?  

 Maybe it is because you are nervous they will “runaway” and not come back. So I ask you,  how many shelters are full of hearing dogs that have strayed from their owners? How many dogs are constantly being chased around dog parks because they won’t come back to their owners once off leash? This is not an excuse to kill. Just as their hearing and seeing relatives, disabled dogs can and should learn a solid recall before being allowed off leash.

  Our deaf dogs are taught how to recall to us by using a flashing light. In the daytime we use a laser light to get their focus and draw them to us. This is taught similarly to using a clicker or a verbal cue.  No dog is born with the knowledge of the recall command, it has to be taught; whether they are deaf, blind or healthy. Some dogs, deaf or not, can never achieve off leash privileges due to how they are driven.

   In my experience working with ALL dogs, I can honestly say that disabled dogs have more focus and trust in their humans, than the majority of other dogs.  

 A good friend of mine recently shot a video of our disabled fosters to show the world how EVERY dog deserves a chance at loving home, I hope you enjoy it.

Still think “Pit Bulls” are dangerous?

Watch out, it’s a “Pit Bull”. I hear this so many times it makes me insane. This blog is for all the people out there that continue to say this breed is dangerous.

   picture of captain his first vet visit 

  I received an email from our friends up in Waco Shelter, regarding a dog that they had come in to their care yesterday. The email was a call for help as he is labeled a “pit bull” and has horrendous wound to his front paw. Of course we are not a rescue group and as much as I state I will not take any more in, how can I let this guy be killed because he is injured and a certain breed? I can’t. So out goes the call to say we will take him and get him back on his feet-pun not intended. 

  The employee that contacted us is one of the bully friendliest people you could hope for in a shelter environment.  She fights to help them just as we do, against all obstacles thrown at her due to breed prejudice and policies. Make no mistake; her job is a tougher one because we know she cannot help them all; as much as she fights, more will come in- same old story for all shelter systems.  The difference here, she stands up for the breeds that immediately are set to be killed. My hat is off to her and I am very thankful our bullies have someone like her in the shelter. She even went the extra mile-many miles- to transport half way to us and stop at her vet on the way. The picture to the right tells how badly injured he is, and how gentle he is regardless of the pain. <Fallon, you are a true hero.>

  The transport pulled up at 11:30 on the dot- they are good that way J– and greeted me full of tears. They are clients of mine and two very big hearted people always looking to help our four legged friends just as much as we are. They had been crying because of the injuries this dog had endured and they were touched by how affectionate and happy he was to be around humans even after suffering like this.  Yes, this sounds familiar; this case immediately touches me because only a few months ago I had the same feeling when I met Papa.  < But these are “pit bulls”! Aren’t we supposed to be afraid they will “rip our faces off without warning?  > After a very teary goodbye, the transporters left us with the reminder that not all humans are as cruel as the person responsible for Captain’s wounds. They even went out and bought him his first toy and –even though the economy has been tough on them, like so many others- they donated a gift card towards his vet care. Yes there are true compassionate people still out there, thank you Brandi and Mike.

  Yes, he has a name. The shelter dubbed him Captain Hook. I can’t call him Captain Hook, just because Hook was mean, so we are shortening his name to Captain J– I am weird like that.

  So after getting a real time look at his wounds – and feeling sick to my stomach that someone could be so cruel- I realize this boy’s story may be more similar to Papa than I thought originally. No I do not think he was a bait dog, but I do think he was a fighting dog. He has the telltale scars all over his face and front legs, a deep puncture over his eye, as well as in his mouth, and he had an abscess puncture wound on his “good” leg. Yet walking into the Center he showed no signs of aggression towards the dogs. No signs of aggression towards every human that touched him. But isn’t this the breed so many in the media and politics say are born killers? Have we been lied to? You decide.



  This is what this poor guy is dealing with; the pain this must be causing, I cannot imagine.






 This is what we will have to do multiple times a day until we can find a vet open to possibly take off his leg. Sorry the pictures are so graphic, but as you can see he is missing half his paw and throughout the soaking and cleaning he remained sweet and tolerant



  Fast forward 3 hours. My awesome best friend – and a fabulous canine acupressure/massage practioner, Christina from Skillful Paws, took time on her much needed day off, to come down and do a session with him.






He obviously appreciated it.


 So what is the point of this story? I mean we see and hear about abuse all the time in the media, on TV. What makes this any different? This is a dog that suffered because of a human- for enjoyment, status or money, could have been killed because of human fear and prejudice; but was saved because there are still humans out there that have enough love and compassion to stand up and say, “Enough”.  If this story makes one person realize anyone can make a difference, then that is enough to save one more dog. Maybe it will become contagious, maybe more people will look and see that this breed is not the monsters they are said to be, but true masters of forgiveness. Maybe.
 Please hug your furbabies often, there are so many dogs that never get a chance to experience true compassion and love.





Another example of only reporting half the facts.

 The latest news comes from Houston Texas. According to the local newspaper, an infant was killed by the “family” dog. No, it was not a “pit bull” but a mutant Rottweiler weighing 150 pounds. Apparently the newspaper reports the “family” dog- mind you it lived strictly outdoors in a pack of 8 other dogs- broke through the barricade put together by the mom to keep them outside ( a washer and marble slab).  The dog mauled the child while the mother was bathing the dog’s father- another mutant Rottweiler weighing 200 pounds. None of the dogs had been in the house when the mother came out to check why there was barking inside the house, just the poor lifeless infant.

  Of course I feel the need to rant about this.There are alot of things wrong with this picture. Lets break them down shall we?

  First of all, Rottweilers do not weigh 150-200 pounds-this would only be possible if the dog had a mix of Mastiff in him. If these dogs were 150-200 pounds and truly pure Rottweiler, they must have been grossly over weight ( and therefore unable to move as quickly as the accused did). The media loves to label dogs or over inflate facts to draw a reader in, of course a 150-200 pound dog sounds more scary than the real size. It is a true monster then. According to the paper the other dogs were all mixes- no mention of whether these dogs were spayed or neutered (a very important fact, as all the fatalities in Texas have been unaltered dogs ).

 Second, if you have a pack of nine dogs living outside you do not have “family” dogs but a pack of unsocialized resident dogs. Dogs that live completely outside with no human interaction or conditioning to human quarters & affection, will make their own pack; they are dogs! This means they follow pack mentality and follow canine rules not human rules. A resident pack does not see humans as part of the pack but rather, outsiders. It is upsetting that people can sit back and assume that these dogs can behave like a true family dog when they were never given the love, training and socialization a true family dog would get. A dog that has had the chance to live indoors with human interaction, will not react like this because they are shown affection and taught how to interact with humans. If you walked into a feral pack of dogs you would get bit or attacked, that is what this pack was; they lived outside and were left to themselves, a feral pack.  The media needs to understand that these dogs can not be called “family dogs”, there has never been a fatality by a true “family” dog, ever.

  Third, the report states the mom was bathing one of the dogs in the bathroom and heard barking in the house. It also states she went to check on what the barking was and found the lifeless body of her infant and no dogs in the house. Now I am not a detective, but I do have some common sense. Lets use it here: the baby’s skull was crushed and the hands were torn apart. I can’t even imagine seeing this and I feel terribly for the child, but a few questions arise from my curious side. A dog attack is very vocal, whether it is on a child or small animal. When a dog reaches a heightened level of excitement either in play or a kill, they can not turn off and very loud vocalization is present. All owners that play tug of war can attest to this. It would take at least  2 minutes to do this type of damage to an infant, I can almost certainly imagine the mom heard more than just “barking”. I would imagine the poor child was crying, quite possibly screaming during the incident. I am a mom and for all other moms out there: if your child was screaming and crying, AND you heard dogs “barking” in your house that dogs were NEVER allowed to enter, would it take you more than 1.5 minutes to investigate?   If there were no dogs in the house by the time she discovered the body, it must have taken her longer than that to go and check on her child. Again let’s do the math, two minutes for a full-out fatal attack involving 3 areas of the body and we must assume the dogs left immediately after the kill (highly improbable-a dog will not just hunt out a child, kill it and flee immediately) at least another 30-45 seconds to exit unless the child was right near the back door. This is almost 3 minutes. Sit down and time out 3 minutes, it is a very long time especially if you hear your child  screaming.  That is ridiculous to think it really happened this quickly. Also just a thought here, but how if “no dogs were inside at the time”, do we know for sure which dog was the attacker?

People all over will blame the dog for this incident, this is human nature isn’t it? We couldn’t possibly place blame on a mother that just lost her child, even if it was her actions that lead to the death of the infant.  What I want to know is are they going to criminally investigate the mom here? With all the facts, there was clearly child endangerment and neglect. Where is our legal system? How can we keep blaming dogs instead of  the lack of responsiblity by a parent/dog owner? When is the media going to look at the facts in a case and report everything? If we gave more attention to the lack of responsible owners/parents maybe we would be able to make a real difference here.