APS adopts temperament testing to help place pups in forever homes

Anne DiGiovanni gets to know the new litter of puppies at Friday Harbor APS

It’s one year later and that adorable bundle of fur has grown. No longer shielded by the veil of cuteness, rescue puppies are often deemed too much to handle, and returned to the shelter.

“We often see puppies getting returned around one-year-old,” said Jan Murphy, adoption and outreach coordinator at the animal shelter in Friday Harbor. “When people adopt a pet it should be forever.”

That’s why the local Animal Protection Society will perform temperament testing on its latest litter of Chihuahua-mix puppies, to best match the puppy’s personality to the adopter’s lifestyle. Temperament testing gives shelter staff a preliminary understanding of a dog’s disposition by observing its reactions to a person its never met.

For example, the tester (a person the puppy will not recognize by scent or sight) will hold a puppy gently on its back for 15 seconds and it’s reaction will be observed and analyzed. Struggling or biting is a more dominant reaction, whereas giving in or being quiet is more submissive. After a series of interactions which touch on reactions to different sized people, other pets, and noises, the observations are summed up using a scoring system where each score represents a different personality.

The application potential adopters must fill out also asks in depth question about lifestyle and living arrangements.

The tests are not exact, Murphy said, but can determine which dog would enjoy living in a quiet home with a single person, and which would better fit a family or active couple.

Jaime Ellsworth, board president of the shelter, said she first found out about temperament testing when a dog trainer-friend invited her to be the tester to a litter of puppies. She said many dog breeders and other shelters have already implemented this method, and that Friday Harbor’s shelter plans to make temperament testing a policy on any animal that comes in.

“Sometimes people get resentful,” she said. “They say ‘we want that dog,’ but we hope they trust and understand that we want them to get an animal that will work for their lifestyle, for the benefit of everyone.”

In the past two litters born at the shelter, one dog from each was returned. Although that number may seem small, when an animal gets returned its stressful for shelter staff and the animal. Too often people chose an animal based on appearance, Murphy said.

The litter of Chihuahua-mixes includes seven puppies born on Nov. 29, to Daisy, an almost two-year-old Chihuahua. Daisy was brought to the shelter from Yakima, Washington in October. She was part of a Chihuahua pack known to roam around the area.

Thanks to the parents of a San Juan resident, the Chihuahua’s in the pack were relocated to different shelters, including Daisy to San Juan.

Her puppies will be ready to go to their new homes anytime after Feb. 7.

“We’re not appointing puppies,” Murphy said. “Adopters still get to choose their own puppy, as long as we feel it’s a good match. We just want to make sure they go to the best suited home.”

If you are interested in adopting stop by the animal shelter in Friday Harbor to visit the puppies and fill out an application. The adoption fee is $125 and includes spaying or neutering.

Friday Harbor APS is located on Shelter Road and open Tues.-Sun., 11-3 p.m.