Using Personality Assesments to Match Pets With Owners

A Time magazine article from earlier this year says a growing number of shelters are using pet personality tests - or more specifically Canine-ality and Feline-ality assessments - to better match pets with new owners.
More than 150 animal shelters now successfully use what are called Canine-ality and Feline-ality assessments to match prospective pet owners with just the right dog or cat. The quizzes have been so successful that euthanasia rates have been cut by 40%. "It really all comes down to matching," says Emily Weiss, an animal behaviorist and the Senior Director of Shelter Behavior Programs for the ASPCA, who devised the assessments when she worked at the Kansas Humane Society. "If I'm looking for a partner, be it a dog or cat or human, there are certain things I'm attracted to and there are things that I really don't want in my life."

Figuring out those "things" is the key. The process starts with potential adopters answering a list of questions regarding their expectations of a pet, ranging from "I want my dog to be playful - Not at All, Somewhat, or Very" to "I am comfortable doing some training with my dog to improve manners such as jumping, stealing food, and pulling on the leash - No, Some, or A Lot of Training."

On the other end, each animal's personality is categorized by shelter workers. The assessment tools include a four-minute hidden camera look at how a dog reacts to finding himself alone near a kitchen counter, bed or couch, with a trash can nearby. If the dog ignores the trash and hops right up on the bed, he's probably a Couch Potato, identified in the following way: "Like the easy life? I'm the perfect match for you, walking very short distances from the couch to the food bowl..." If instead she cruises the counter, she might be a Busy Bee, described as "on a mission to please you and myself..."

Weiss developed the assessments by studying the behavior of dogs on loan from homes to the Kansas Humane Society for 72 hours. Her staff watched the animals and then asked owners which behaviors were typical of the pets at home. The behaviors considered atypical were eliminated, and only lists of behavior categories matching an animal's personality in both stressed and non-stressed situations were included.
It sounds like a useful way to provide better pet-owner matchups. Pets express many individual behaviors in addition to the behaviors associated with their breed.

A USA Today story on the pet assessments shows a few of the sample questions asked of people interested in adopting a pet.

The ASPCA has more information on the matching program they call Meet Your Match (MYM) here. The program has helped reduce adopted pet returns and euthanasia. MYM uses the Canine-ality and Feline-ality assessments developed by Emily Weiss. You can see the dog and puppy personalities in the canine-alities chart and puppy-alities chart. Information the cat personalities chart can be found here.

Posted on March 18, 2008

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