The Importance of the ASPCA’s SAFER Assessment Used by Trainers in Shelters - By Carol Adams, ABC graduate and Board Member for Jasper Animal Rescue Mission
Friday, April 01, 2011 : 9:48:00 AM Updated Thursday, August 18, 2011 : 11:17:08 AM
Training in a shelter or animal control facility often presents challenges to the trainer. Before training can begin, it is important to uncover any tendencies for aggression in order to provide for safe handling by shelter staff, determination of adoptability of the dog and keep the dog re-homed should it be deemed adoptable.
The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) offers the SAFER Assessment, a 7 item evaluation that helps determine a dog’s (6 months or older) likelihood for future aggression. The program also includes protocols for shelter workers to use in overcoming challenging behaviors that may surface during the assessment and methods for enriching the shelter environment.
The Safety Assessment for Evaluating Re-homing (SAFER), designed and researched by renowned behaviorist Dr. Emily Weiss, examines a dog’s comfort level with restraint and touch, reaction to new experiences including movement and sound stimuli, bite inhibition, behavior around food and toys and arousal level towards other dogs. Statistically supported, this has been a proven evaluation to detect the likelihood for aggression resulting in fewer dogs being returned to the shelter post-adoption. Once the SAFER assessment is completed and the dog is ready to proceed through the adoption process, a Meet Your Match Cainine-ality assessment can be conducted to learn more about what the dog will behave like in the home so he can be matched to the adopter’s expectations. Together, these assessments assist shelter workers in preparing, matching and helping to insure adopted dogs remain in their homes.
In October of 2009, several certified SAFER assessors from the ASPCA, including Dr. Weiss, descended upon the housing communities associated with the Marine Air Station and Parris Island in South Carolina. Utilizing the SAFER assessment, the teams evaluated dogs subjected to a breed ban in order to determine if they could remain in base housing. Pit bulls, Rottweilers, mixes of those breeds and wolf hybrids were designated as dogs requiring an approved behavior assessment. The team assessed 85 dogs and only two were deemed as unsafe to stay on base for the next two years.
As a student of the SAFER assessment and a newly certified dog trainer, I was privileged to observe the assessments that took place over a three day period. I gained insight on the assessments and refinement of technique to further me along in the certification process. It was apparent that the work of the ASPCA and the use of this tool spared the lives of many dogs that would likely be turned over to animal control facilities where their fate could not be guaranteed. As the work was not quite finished, it became incumbent those guest trainers, shelter workers and animal control officers to be able to go forward with the project and become certified by the ASPCA or be a member of an assessment team and a knowledgeable observer to conduct assessments on those dogs that were not available during the initial test period. Now as a certified SAFER Assessor, I can pick up where this remarkable group of original Assessors left off and avail myself to give these dogs and their owners a chance to stay together as a family.
The SAFER Assessment is also a valuable tool for any trainer that volunteers in shelters and at animal control facilities. The techniques learned for conducting a SAFER assessment not only determine the likelihood for aggression but also require the Assessor to develop safe handling habits that are necessary in working with unfamiliar dogs. Identifying canine body language is essential when interacting with a dog for the first time. Using a leash, collar and correct arm positioning in ordinary handling of a dog allows you to observe a dog with close contact and still allow a buffer area to protect your extremities and face. Having an assess-a-hand available for resource guarding assessments is an invaluable tool and allowing the simulated hand to remain in the area of the food bowl will allow you to determine the extent of the aggression with varying stimuli while remaining safe.
Protocols for behavior modification such as food guarding, inappropriate play, fearful behavior, touch sensitivity, over-arousal And reactivity to other dogs that may be identified using the SAFER assessment are included in the course materials. Identifying behaviors and the protocols for correcting these behaviors give the dog a much better chance for a successful, permanent adoption.
Most importantly, if you, as a trainer, can property identify a specific behavior and remove the blanket of generalization like “this dog is aggressive” that may cause a dog to be euthanized, you will not only save lives but also develop a strong, respectful relationship with the shelter manager.
For more information on the MYMSAFER go to http://www.aspcapro.org/aggression-assessment.php
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