Many animal shelters make use of temperament testing, which gives them the ability to put potential pets into broad categories according to their personalities (e.g., responsive, shy, nervous, playful, or independent) with the hopes of better matching them to owners. Pets that are found to have behavioral problems that might make them temporarily unsuitable for adoption can also be identified and singled out for behavioral modification (hopefully).

It is important to keep in mind that temperament testing is not a pass-fail endeavor. The phrase "this animal failed a temperament test" should never be uttered. The programs should only be used to identify potential problem areas and/or better match people with pets available for adoption. For example, a dog that is extremely high energy may not be appropriate for an elderly person but could be perfect for someone looking for a companion to run with. A cat that is not comfortable around other animals might do just fine as an indoor "only child."

Temperament testing is not perfect. The way in which an animal reacts in the shelter environment might be quite different from how it will behave after settling into a new home. Well-designed and managed shelters that minimize stress for their residents and focus on socialization can minimize this effect, but I don’t think it can ever be completely eliminated.

Several different types of temperament tests are available, but I’m going to use the ASPCA’s "Meet Your Match" (MYM) program as an example since it has been put in place at my local shelter. From the ASPCA’s website:

The Meet Your Match Canine-ality/Puppy-ality assessment begins with an initial MYM SAFER® (Safety Assessment for Evaluating Rehoming) behavior screening to make sure each pooch is a good candidate for adoption. Dogs are then tested on their friendliness, playfulness, energy level, motivation, and drive, and placed into one of nine color-coded Canine- or Puppy-alities. Some pooches are laid-back "Couch Potatoes," others are curious "Busy Bees," and then there are the action hero "Go-Getter" types.

Each adoptable cat is assessed based on level of interest in play, exploring, "talking," and being the center of attention so that he or she can be placed into one of the nine color-coded "feline-ality" types that make up the Meet Your Match program. Green cats are savvy and adventurous, orange cats make the perfect companions, and purple kitties are quiet, seek affection, and stay out of trouble.

Potential adopters take a short dog survey or cat survey and are assigned a color based on their answers. People and shelter animals that have been given the same color should be well-suited to one another, but adopters are still free to pick whichever animal they choose.

It’s like a speed dating for pets and people. Have any of you met your canine of feline perfect match through a program like this?

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Sandy by John Sibley / via Flickr