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Stop the Introductions

I recently conducted a workshop at The ASPCA/Cornell/Maddie's Shelter Medicine Conference, along with my good friend and colleague Bert Troughton, titled “Shelterer to Rehomer.” We designed the workshop to help shelter and rescue professionals learn the subtle shift from keeping animals safe in a shelter or foster home to moving animals from the shelter into adopter homes.

During one portion of the workshop, I outline policies that might restrict some dogs from having live exits. I asked folks to put their hands up if they required a dog-to-dog introduction prior to adoption, and about ¾ of the room put their hands up! This requirement is a great example of a policy that was designed for the shelterer as opposed to the rehomer.

In many cases, this requirement results in the dog staying at least one night longer in your shelter (longer Length of Stay means fewer lives can be saved… fewer animals who get to go home). Even worse, a potential adoption might not occur because the extra step involved in bringing the owned dog back to the agency can prove too much for some.

What is the goal of doing a dog-to-dog intro? When I ask this, the most common answer is the one you might expect—“to make sure the dogs get along.” This is usually followed by “the opportunity to educate the adopter.”

Let’s look at the goal of making sure the dogs get along. I would challenge the notion that observing the dogs interact in the shelter environment is an indicator of how they will behave at home. Home is full of resources to guard and changes in routine, things we will not see in the shelter. In fact, these intros may actually cause the adopter to feel as if the dogs will of course get along because the adoption agency, which required this dog-to-dog meet, “allowed” the adoption to occur. If there is a disagreement or outright aggression between the dogs in the home, these prior expectations will not be met… maybe resulting in an adoption with a lower likelihood of success!

I have heard of more than one incident in which the dog-to-dog intros went beautifully—and the dogs then had brutal fights in the car on the way home from the adoption agency.

By eliminating the dog-to-dog introduction, we can set folks up for realistic expectations of what they might see with the two dogs in the home. And… if they do not have a neutral space to introduce the two dogs to each other, you can offer the service (in return for a small donation) of doing the introduction at your shelter. Then the interaction is not about whether or not the dog can go home with the potential adopter, but instead about how to best manage these two dogs when they do go home.

How about the goal of educating the adopter? In order to truly learn, most adult learners need to start with a basic principle—one of respect. Well…many folks have lots of knowledge about how their dog interacts with other dogs and are perfectly comfortable and happy to do the introduction on their own. How open will this person be to being “educated” when we have pretty much said to them, “Never mind what you think you know,” by making the introduction a requirement they must meet in order to adopt?

Again, if we shift the dog-to-dog introduction from a policy to a service for a small subset of those who request that assistance, now you have someone truly ready and open to your information.

Dog-to-dog introductions may have some utility. But the risks are too high to have them in place as a policy as opposed to a pay service—risks including the increased possibility that potential adopters may not transition into actual adopters, and the cost of keeping the dog in your shelter longer than he needs to be.

What are your thoughts and experiences around eliminating dog-to-dog intros?

 

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Comments

Comment

Some interesting points to consider. Our hesitancy with making dog-dog intros optional is that many people don't know how to read dog body language correctly and may make the assumption because one dog is barking initially at the other, or snapping if the other dog became invasive, etc. and may make a hasty decision that it is not going to work. Wherein if given more time to interact, properly reading the signals each dog is giving, etc., it may become a harmonious union.

Comment

Jennifer - thank you for your thoughts. If you offer a service to assist those who want more information on understanding canine communication you can achieve your goal. Further, by giving adopters an easy way to connect back with you post adoption, they can contact you when behaviors occur that cause concern.

Comment

I agree that the mandatory dog-dog intro is probably unnecessary and doing more harm than good in many cases. Particularly because there are a lot of rescue volunteers and shelter workers out there who are just as uninformed about dog behavior and body language as some adopters, and it just becomes a case of the blind leading the blind. I still think about a home visit I did with a foster dog many years ago to introduce her to their current dog and wonder if it might have worked out had they just been able to take her home and do it themselves. Rather than the required intro, I'd like to see shelters/rescue create better, more accessible resources for adopters about managing multi-dog homes. A quick one-page, bullet-pointed required reading on managing multiple dogs and transitioning a new dog into that space for the adopter to read while they're signing all their paperwork would really go a long way. My initial thought on the "pay service" option for dog-dog intros is that nobody is going to pay extra for that, and that it actually suggests to the adopter that the shelter is only willing to help them with the transition for more money. If someone requests help with that, then the shelter/rescue should be willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure a successful adoption, no strings attached. But maybe that wouldn't be the case.

Comment

I personally think the meet and greet at the shelter is a good idea and not just for the "subset that needs education." In fact, I think any person who thinks they know enough about dogs to skip the intro is the one who most needs education. When we adopted our Doone, I made sure we did a meet and greet with my Selli. I know dog communication in general and how Selli reacted to dogs specifically, so when she Met Doone and he met her I knew they were a good match and they were. Now the fact that Selli was a well-bred 1 year old intact female Golden and Doone was a 1 year old Golden Collie mix made the chances of them not liking each other slight but I needed to know.

We all know people who have a dog and are sure their dog LOVES all other dogs, despite evidence to the contrary. These people may very well decide they do not need to do a meet and greet, especially if it costs more money. They may take a new dog home which will not get along with their owned dog and never will and that could be avoided if there had been a meet and greet.

I own a private dog park and do temperament tests before dogs are allowed into the park. I make a point of putting the new dog in a slightly stressful situation since I need to see how the dog is likely to react when it feels out of control. In a meet and greet at a shelter, both the owned dog and the new dog are both somewhat stressed and I think that may give a more accurate picture of how they will deal with each other.

Finally, I would like to see a study that objectively looks at the relationship between dogs getting along in a meet and greet and dogs getting along in a household.

Comment

See, this might vary from dog to dog. One of our adopted dogs comes from a high kill shelter in Los Angeles and any type of shelter environment would be the worst type of environment for him to be introduced to anybody. So yes to the meet & greet but elsewhere.

Comment

I think the respect thing comes into play here. While there are many people that think they know about dogs but aren't as savvy as they believe, there actually are people that are adopting dogs out there that do know enough to do a dog intro on their own. For instance, if as a professional animal trainer, I were to go to a shelter and be forced to do an intro there because the staff there believes that simply because I believe I know how to intro a new dog into my home it must mean that I really don't, well, Houston, we have a problem. The attitude of thinking that you as a staff or volunteer of a shelter means that you automatically know more than the potential adopter about that adopter's skills and knowledge of their animal(s) taints your interaction with them and can derail the very education you think you are providing - people tune out if they pick up on someone clearly thinking that they haven't got a clue.

Comment

I must be misunderstanding something here. I don't understand why the author thinks that a dog introduction policy might result in a potential adopter not adopting. The majority of potential adopters I have met believe that the introduction is a valuable tool in choosing the right dog for their home.

Comment

Diane - black and white policies like mandatory dog to dog introductions can impact in many ways - from turning folks away simply when they read the rules on the shelter website, turning away adopters from outside the city or state, setting up a disrespectful relationship, and more. We have more information on The Shelterer to Rehomer perspective on aspcapro.org

Comment

I have long thought that the assessment protocols in place in most of what we think of as the more 'sophisticated' shelters (I feel they actually do better in many tiny, bare-bones Southern animal control facilities) are ludicrous, and I agree with what Dr. Emily Weiss has written here. I wish she'd write about the other ridiculous assessment procedures I see being used to justify the killing of perfectly adoptable dogs, several of whom live here with me, after I saw beyond their obviously flawed assessments and helped them break their dates with the 'euthanasia' (not the correct application of this word) technicians. A dog can NOT be accurately assessed in today's typical large-scale shelter environment. We need sweeping shelter reforms, before we can talk with any credibility about assessment. I think this is as good a time as any for me to say that the one thing I've ever seen of yours which disappointed me, Dr. McConnell, is when you said in 'The Other End of the Leash' (I believe) that Sue Sternberg's fake hand was a good idea. I love the idea of using the time presently spent on untrustworthy assessments and misleading dog/dog introductions for owner education, instead.

Comment

I have mixed feelings about the dog introductions done at the shelter. They can be very helpful if done in the right way. My biggest complaint with the SAFER test is the fake hand. I have almost 20 years experience as a reinforcement/reward based trainer. I was the animal behavior coordinator at a medium sized shelter from 10/08 to 7/12. Working in a county agency, I was encouraged to use the SAFER test but had the freedom to choose the behavior assessment that was the most realistic as long as I could show, and explain the reason. It didn't take long to see the disadvantages of the test. The most obvious being the fake hand. I have personally witnessed and videoed many, many dogs who did not pass the fake hand test. When I used my real hand on these same dogs, over 90 percent passed. Due to budget cuts the county shelter went under and the humane society took over. The SAFER test is currently being used and highly adoptable dogs are being put to death. I currently volunteer with a small rescue group to evaluate the dogs that did not pass the SAFER test and rescue the ones that passed using a different behavior assessment. During evaluations on site and off site, many of those dogs reacted with different levels of aggression when showed the fake hand, but no sign of aggression when showed the real hand.

Comment

A fake hand?? I'll bet that REALLY smells like an actual person, and moves like an actual person. It seems really cheesy to me. I understand being a little apprehensive about offering your actual hand to a new dog, but in a controlled environment, this can be done with minimal risk. I think using a fake hand is setting some dogs up for failure.

Comment

I've been fostering for around 6 years. My dogs do defensive posturing with any dog they meet on neutral ground. When a foster comes into my house, my dogs are behind a gate. Then they are allowed to meet the foster which results in mutual butt sniffing. Shortly after, they are all friends (although issues have cropped up with dogs who had a high prey drive (my dogs are all small) or resource guarding issues). Frankly, if I brought my dogs to a shelter to meet a dog, I think they would behave terribly. However, I will say that when I decided to start fostering, I spent a bunch of time watching, "Its Me or the Dog".

Comment

I think flexibility in the adoption process would be very helpful.

I won't adopt from a shelter or rescue that insists I take my dogs to a shelter to do the first meeting. Even the best of shelters are stressful places, with a feeling very different from other busy, public spaces. I don't prepare my dogs for environments like that. In fact, I try my best to avoid any scenario that involves my dogs ending up on shelter property again (they are both former shelter dogs).

I like to do first meetings on neutral, stress-free (and ideally fun) ground near my home. I also like to take a lot of time. If things are going well away from home, then everyone comes back to the house where they're separated by at least two see-through barriers so I can monitor things further. As things progress I begin to remove barriers, decrease distance between the strangers, and eventually remove all barriers. Dogs are always supervised. It can take hours to days before I remove all barriers.

My dogs have never failed to like (or at least peacefully tolerate) a dog introduced in this way.

If I can't do the meetings slow and easy I just won't adopt.

I really appreciate shelters and rescues that do trial adoptions or foster-to-adopt. This gives me ample time to make slow introductions and come to a decision without feeling rushed or making a mistake.

Comment

I put the question to a few of my acquaintances. The following 2 responses are both excellent. Each person has a different take due to the different circumstances involved. I am starting out with them as a jump off point for writing down my own response.

Response #1 Without breaking down my own reasons and opinions or dissecting the ASPCA article, I will say that I think requiring dog intros is good for all parties involved, both human and canine. I find the time with the potential adopter and their dog to be a pleasure. No matter what the results of the intro we all have a better understanding of each other and the dogs involved. I think it is a very helpful and needed step.

Response#2 My personal preference is to do dog intros at the adopters home; which I have the luxury to do with my fosters. I have the adopter meet me outside of the home and we take the dogs for a walk together. If they seem appropriate on the walk then we progress to the the yard (if there is one) and then finally into the home. I still caution the adopter about the potential for guarding bowls, toys, people, etc which is just something you should always be cautious about since they are dogs. So far this approach has been successful with my placements. I am not totally comfortable with an immediate dog intro in the runs at a shelter primarily because I think there is potential for the shelter dog to view the run as his territory much in the way that the resident dog considers the home his territory. I think introducing the dogs on a walk allows them to get familiar with each other in a non-confrontational way.

So, yes, I actually like both of the responses that I got. Having the 2 dogs come to the shelter to meet, sniff, go for a parallel walk, come back and hang for a few minutes. When that is happening, I watch not only the dogs, but how the owners react to the situation, and if there are children--- all the better to see how appropriately they are around a new dog. They are all pieces to the puzzle-- and I try to see how well, even in a known limited way, the pieces fit. And going to the home lets you trouble shoot problems before they happen.
What does not make sense to me is to stop being cautious about where we place our dogs. If we do not take the time to know each dog, we are placing an unknown into someone's house, someone's life. I realize that this all takes a great deal of precious time. Time has become the commodity that we measure out with care, taking care not to drop any on the table.
It comes down to setting my priorities with the emphasis on caution over quickness ---- being the dog's best advocate at all times.. I am uncomfortable placing an unknown factor out into the world of unknown factors. I want to get to know a shelter dog as well as I can, get to know the potential adopter, and his circumstances as well, so that the adoption has as strong and solid base as possible.

Comment

I have to disagree with the idea that doing dog to dog introductions is not useful. I can list 3 pairings in the very recent past that would have resulted in injury or death had an introduction not occurred. I also find it interesting that the developer of the SAFER assessment is saying that doing an introduction with the dogs in the shelter is not usually an accurate representation of what the dog might do in a home setting. The same could be said for the entire test. And though that is not perfect either, it certainly beats guesswork when in comes to safe and successful adoptions. The retail approach that is trending in shelters so we can move them faster to save more lives is a bit disconcerting to me. This will come at the expense of the animals we are trying to help. To ask a few questions, and set some standards for the home a pet goes to is what the animals are counting on us to do for them. They have no voice. Better to at least take a precursory look at the dog's potential living situation and err on the side of the dog's well being than to just throw all responsibility to the wind for the sake of moving them out.

Comment

I thought meeting on a neutral ground helped when the dogs went back home. I know the first time my son brought his dog over for a visit after I adopted my last dog, I wasn't expecting him and he just walked in with his dog, no doorbell, nothing. His dog thought of our house as her home away from home and there were problems. We worked it out, but it took several visits and parallel dog walking for them to tolerate each other. Had I known he was coming, I would have met him down the street so we could walk back to the house together. I've used this technique with other dogs and never had a problem. If you tell adopters to do this, they just don't believe it's that important and just take the new dog in the house. Even my husband just rolled his eyes at me when I went through my "routine" even after he saw the results of not following the rules. I do agree that you lose some adopters because they just don't want the hassle of taking a dog along for a meet & greet, but if there's a dog fight when they get home, that dog is coming back, now with a bad reputation.

Comment

We promote pet-to-pet intros happen outside the shelter. The shelter environment is a stressful place for many dogs and we found it can be hard to get an authentic "read" on the dog's behavior. Instead we provide adopters with step-by-step instructions on how to facilitate pet-to-pet introductions after the adoption, how to set the stage for a positive first interaction, explain how it's a process not a one-time event. Adopters are also eligible for a free private training session if they need help. And, we also have a behavior helpline available 7 days a week. Yes, sometimes people completely dismiss the instructions and put the dogs together right away. Most often there are no problems but sometimes there are and we try to help them through it or they always have the option to return the dog.

Comment

Cindy - I love the support offered to your adopters. This approach respects the experience the adopter may bring, and allows an easy non threatening way to access your resources if they need to.

Comment

It sounds like you have a really thought out plan that works for dog introductions. I am a firm believer that they need to be outside of the shelter as well. I also believe that an introduction should be done with ANY dog that your dog may encounter. So educating the owner about the steps, etc, is necessary so they can use that knowledge later. I don't know if requiring the dogs to meet before adopting is correct though. I can really see why people may get nervous because they know their dog doesn't respond well under stress, etc. I can imagine that some dogs would make a great introduction outside of a shelter wheras that same dog would have a horrible first introduction when done under the stress of the shelter. That could be a disaster for the dog, possibly losing him a fabulous home.

Comment

I agree that the shelter is a stressful environment, my experience with one dog I planned on fostering was that he was docile at the shelter and did have contact with an older dog. Took him to an adoption event, and he gave the body signals /moon eye, etc when a man approached, ultimately I took him home, he was extremely anxious in the home and stressed by other dogs, and they returned the feelings...it takes weeks and sometimes months for a dog to settle in with a new situation...introductions at the shelter for a dog confined for weeks or months is iffy.

Comment

I believe it is a great dis service - i do rescue a LOT and i dont worry about the initial meeting of a dog i take in to my own dogs. If you know what you are doing it is not an issue and does keep me from pulling from some shelters because they INSIST on the dog being adopted meeting all the dogs in the new home - irregardless of the experience of the person that is pulling the dogs. I am a trainer and have recued several dogs .. over a hundred and i know what i am doing- i rehab dogs with issues so they can be put in a home. Yet some shelters even knowing me personally will not change the rules for anyone .. it is the " rule" - because of that several good dogs have been put down . Just doesnt make sense to me

Comment

I think dog-to-dog introductions are beneficial as long as they take place on neutral ground. However, many shelter dogs require time to adjust to a new environment and may not show their true personality for weeks. That's not to say we shouldn't introduce dogs first. In my experience volunteering for a rescue, the introductions have been beneficial. There have been times where we have discovered immediately that the dogs are not right for each other. Fortunately at the rescue I volunteer for, we have the opportunity to introduce dogs in a neutral location. We have adoption events held outside the rescue so these introductions can provide some knowledge as to whether the dogs may be suited for each other or not. Fortunately there are ways to ease the transition of a dog into a new home and it is critical to inform adopters of ways to make this a positive experience. I do agree that being able to read dog language is critical and that it is important for shelter/rescue employees/volunteers to have knowledge on this.

Comment

I have found that shelters are more interested in their adoption stats than in the long term well being of the dog. The elimination of dog intros at shelters is a case in point.

Even though shelters require adopters to return the dog if things don't work out, this rarely happens. Instead the animal is handed off from one relative or friend to another until the dog ends up in some other shelter or dead.

As the owner of a reactive dog, it was essential that my dog be able to accept the shelter dog that I eventually adopted, and that the shelter dog be able to read my dog well enough to give the right calming signals. This took place on the shelter grounds.

Under the guise of claiming that dog-dog intros stand in the way of saving more dogs("longer Length of Stay means fewer lives can be saved"), you are actually promoting elimination of a policy in order to benefit the shelter financially, i.e., longer length of stay means fewer revenues. Let's not delude ourselves.

Comment

I think encouraging shelters to get rid of mandatory dog-dog introductions is taking an unnecessary risk. If the problems with it are the areas you are doing introductions, then you can always find a less stressful area to do a meet and greet. Whether it is in one of the play yards of the shelter or a block away from all of the barking, there is always a way to introduce two dogs in a calm way, under trained supervision. I used to go daily to a dog park with my dogs, but that was before I began taking animal behavior classes. I didn't understand anything my dogs were doing, and I truly thought they loved other dogs, and that they would figure it out if they didn't. Once I got some education and then began working at a shelter, I realized that my dogs were in fact not dog friendly AT ALL. They wouldn't necessarily fight with other dogs right away but they were both constantly challenging and truly terrorizing the other dogs at the park. They were lucky the other dogs there were so tolerant usually, but that was not always the case. When testing dogs in a shelter environment if they are dog friendly, the same argument can be made that it is in a stressful environment and is not a good indicator of their actual behavior. Now in saying that I mean the testing that is done in initial tests, not in the shelters that take the time to know the dogs inside and out and try them with every type of dog. I have seen dogs be so scared in assessments that they don't move, and then once they recover their confidence in their home with another dog, they show their true personalities and those are not always dog friendly. Also, in my experience, most owners looking to adopt are incredibly attached to their dogs, and no amount of education you give them is going to help them get over it if the new dog growls or tries to bite their baby from the start. Their dog was there first, end of story. And honestly, how many average owners are prepared to break up a dog fight if that is in fact what ensues from an initial introduction done by unqualified people. At the end of the day we all use the same terminology of the "forever" home. The place that they will go once they leave our shelters. The place they will stay FOREVER. They are supposed to live out their lives there and then remain there in spirit afterwards waiting for a loving owner to meet them on the bridge. How can we be calling these homes "forever" if we are setting the dogs up to just come right back to us when they do not get along with a new canine sibling because we didn't observe them together in the first place? I understand we ALL want to get the dogs out of the shelters but isn't it JUST AS TRAUMATIC to be adopted, possibly fight with a dog, and THEN COME BACK to the incredibly stressful environment of the shelter, just to wait once again?

Comment

From my experiences with shelter dogs, having now three of them at home and a few years volunteering at the local shelter. Dog introductions at the shelter needs to be done with caution and on a dog to dog basis. For some it could be too stressful and trigger a reaction that may not be typical for them. For others, they may be so happy-go-lucky, it wouldn't matter. As for introductions at the home, you need to be careful with that too. You are now bringing in another dog to your dog's territory. With my most recent adoption, about a month ago, I (for the first time) did a dog to dog introduction at the shelter. Knowing my dog's personality and listening to the staff the how the shelter dog would respond. I knew if I brought home the new dog without introducing outside of our home environment, my dog would not have let the new one in. The introduction went great at the shelter and because of that he was allowed in the house with no fuss. Again, it personally think it boils down to dog personalities and how that dog handles the stress at the shelter.

Comment

The dog-to-dog introduction at the shelter can be very stressful for some dogs, however not for all. You must first consider that the dogs at the shelter are typically in a very stressful place and have typically not been exercised as much as needed to be relaxed. Therefore only those who have, in their 'past' life, been socialized to the most extreme situations would be excellent at this encounter (not that they would be aggressive, but just overly excited - which could be a 'turn off' to a potential adopter). Also, most dogs from the home would be under extreme stress at the shelter because of the strange place that has so many sounds...multiple dogs barking and whatever else is going on that day. Even if the home dog is socialized this can be stressful and therefore that would be exhibited in the 'forced' introduction to a stranger. At the shelter where I volunteer was a good example of this a few weeks ago. We don't have the introduction rule, but it is an option for any adopter. The little home dog was scared silly and hid behind the legs her people. Of course any dog that was brought into the room was overly excited at being out of the kennel and wanted to 'see' her..the home dog growled at everyone one of them. We gave her time with the last one (from a long distance) to relax and finally (after an hour) she slowly accepted the shelter dog. Of course, if intros are not done properly at home this would not go well either. Either way all things must be considered, there are pros and cons to each. First, are there enough rooms at the shelter where at least 2 or 3 'home' dogs can destress (taking an hour or two)in order to meet a shelter dog and is there enough staff to take the shelter dog out and exercise her enough to get the excitement of being out of the kennel out of her system? Usually a shelter does not have enough meeting rooms nor the staff to accomplish this in a timely manner. These are just a few things that should be considered. I do agree that a pamplet or leaflet with home introduction guidelines is the best choice for many shelters.

Comment

I have to agree with Dr. Weiss. We have stopped dog to dog introductions except for a few case by case basis and then those results are also taken with a grain of salt. We educate the adopters on how to introduce their new pet in their home. We also recommend that they keep their pet and the new pet apart for 10 days.

Comment

I think as a rule sheltering staff and volunteers suffer from a violent case of the tendency of toward falling victim to the psychological trick of thinking we are above average. Get ten shelter workers/volunteers in a room and ask them if they think they are in the top half of skill and qualifications and everyone raises their hand. Chances are, so do ten random adopters. I find it interesting that so many responses, whether in support or opposition to Weiss' observations include "But I know MY/OUR dog/dogs, even if no one else does". Isn't the central point that any barrier placed between an adopter and a pet needs to provide a greater value to the animal's chance of survival (or impact on another's due to space considerations, etc.) than not having the barrier. Weiss makes a strong case that the supposed benefit does not outweigh the potential negatives.

Comment

If adopters could be trusted to follow shelter advice about slow, patient, neutral introductions, a dog/dog introductions wouldn't be necessary at all. But the fact of the matter is it's only a small percentage of people who do anything other than smile and nod at what the shelters say and throw the dogs together, not even bother to cross their fingers.

How do we get them to understand? I don't know - I use my shelter's dog/dog introduction as a time to attempt to hammer things home a little more thoroughly....

Comment

Sorry, I don't agree with this. This is another tactic to move animals and increase adoption rates and I get that. I feel that quantity sacrifices quality at times. Educate the adopters? Are you kidding me? Most believe they know everything already and they don't. They rarely want to listen and learn.
A local humane society shelter that I often work with has dropped all forms of adoption requirements. Their return rate on dogs has been very high.
Another shelter in a nearby community did the same. Their adoption rates have skyrocketed. That seems awesome and it would be if it weren't for the fact its a very small town. Where are all those animals going? Hmmm?

Comment

I agree totally that mandatory dog-dog introductions at the shelter are a barrier to lots of adoptions, as are poorly-done dog-dog introductions. But I also agree that charging a fee for the service is a very bad idea, as it would prevent pretty much everyone (in our market, at least) from getting some input from the shelter on the pairing AND give people the idea that we have a profit motive. We recommend a "meet & greet" for most adopters who already have a dog at home, and we require them for some dogs in our care who have shown significant signs of issues with other dogs. If an adopter has lots of experience dealing with multiple dogs and/or dog intros and can tell us their plan for managing the process, we'll waive the requirement - there are LOTS of people who are quite good at this.
But going to the other extreme - charging a fee for the service - is very likely missing out on (as one respondent said) a chance to see how the adopter (and family) responds the to the behavior of the dogs, to observe and discuss whether the dogs are communicating well with one another and discuss behavior cues that the adopter might be missing, and to talk about the at-home intro process in a setting that is more salient for the adopter than talking without the dogs present. I've also seen that intros near/in the home do seem to go faster and to be less stressful for both dogs if the dogs have already met at the shelter.
I believe shelters need to 1. be humble and realistic about how much they can "educate" people 2. recognize that some folks need more assistance than others in their decision-making and behavior observations, 3. in dog-dog intros, focus on seeing whether the dogs seem to be able to communicate clearly with eachother, and 4. acknowledge that a big part of the process is to recognize and discuss the adopter's expectations for what a 2nd (or 3rd, or 4th) dog will bring to their household.

Thanks Emily and Bert for opening up the discussion - it's an important one to have!

Comment

Stopping dog-to-dog introductions in shelters looks to me like just a way to transfer the potential liability for ensuing incidents from the shelters to the adopters. Incidents resulting from introducing adopted dogs into new homes mostly involve pit bulls, often result in injuries to humans as well as dogs, and four times in the past eight weeks have brought pending litigation against the adopting shelters -- and those are just the cases I know about. This is a growing trend. Fatal and disfiguring attacks on humans by pit bulls from shelters and rescues have exploded, from zero in the first 90 years of the 20th century to 43 in the past four years, along with 19 fatal & disfiguring attacks by other shelter dogs, mostly Rottweilers & bull mastiffs. The only dogs rehomed from U.S. shelters to kill anyone, ever, before 2000 were two wolf hybrids, in 1988 and 1989. Just since 2010, by contrast, 31 shelter dogs have participated in killing people, 29 of them pit bulls, bull mastiffs, and Rottweilers -- and this has occurred despite the increasing emphasis on behavioral screening, which before 1990 was minimal if done at all. Incidentally, the early 1990s brought the all-time peak in rehomings of shelter dogs. Because far fewer dogs are coming to shelters now than 20 years ago, the total numbers of adoptions have steadily declined, even though the chances that a dog coming to a shelter today will be adopted are much higher.

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Merritt- thank you for your thoughts. I am not suggesting the elimination of behavior assessments, just the elimination of policy based mandatory dog-to-dog introductions for the adopters dogs at home to meet the previously assessed shelter dog.

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I'd love to know the reason for your laser-like focus on particular dog breeds. When millions of dogs are being adopted from shelters, I'm not sure your figures amount to an "explosion" in fatal attacks. They also don't seem especially helpful when the large majority of adoptions do not have these tragic results; it would seem that the vastly greater number of benign interactions occurring in the course of shelter adoptions would be much more useful in establishing shelter (or, for that matter, social) policy. In addition, I would want much greater (read: scientific) assurance that the breed of the implicated dog is, in fact, what you say it is. Visual identifications, we know, are highly flawed, and so you're simply reporting a possibly (perhaps likely) flawed assessment. This is not science; this is a game of telephone. In all respects, we should demand much more of ourselves before establishing or blindly following policies that could have potentially life-ending results for the great majority of dogs who had nothing to do with these isolated incidents.

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I wanted to call folks' attention back to a point made in Dr. Weiss' original post - that our desire and aim to educate adopters has to be grounded in respect in order for learning to take place. And I wanted to pose (and perhaps answer!) a question. A previous comment began with the suggestion that intros wouldn't be necessary "if adopters could be trusted." My question is this - do we have any other choice but to trust our adopters? It is the adopter, after all, that truly saves a life. We, in the sheltering world, do amazing work to rescue, treat, and rehab millions of animals each year - but our end goal (I hope!) is to rehome - and we need adopters to do that. If we can't - or don't - trust our adopters and potential adopters to be thoughtful, caring, and responsible pet owners - in short, if we don't treat them with respect, the benefit of the doubt, and as partners in life-saving - how can we hope to do right by the very animals most of us joined this cause to care for and protect? We need their respect, partnership, and trust to achieve our mission(s) - don't they deserve ours in return?

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I think we are taking too many services away from our adopters. Why can't we provide them with good service? We are asking dogs to go and live with another dog confined within 1200-2500 square feet. Seems only fair to ask them how they would feel about that since they don't have the option to leave the premises.

I suppose if you take this thesis to its logical conclusion, we should eliminate dog intros when evaluating as well. If we can't really ascertain anything in the shelter environment about dogs' sociability, why spend time and resources on evaluating their dog skills?

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I often find that the majority of people that go away from my shelter, due to the mandatory dog on dog meet are people with unrealistic expectations about what's an appropriate match. Some are put out by it and don't understand why I just won't "sell" them that dog they want, because it's cute and comes in the color they like. It helps me weed out the people who, if a problem does arise in the future with a new pet, they are the ones less willing to work through it. Whether that is problems with another dog or any other behavior issue. It's our job to let these people know that even if a greeting goes well initially, it may change once new dog gets comfortable in their home. I've been able to help people who had behavior issues with their current dog and thought getting another dog was the answer. It also helps to see how they treat their current dog and whether or not I should add another animal to their home.

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I have a female Pit and went to adopt another female Pit at the spca after a long car ride my pit and my spaniel were stressed we arrived and it started to rain we were taken back to an outside pen for the Pit's to meet, my girl is 13 she loves everyone and excepts all of our childrens dogs into our home, upon introduction the new younger Pit jumped right up at her in a playful way and she growled and snipped, she didn't expect the over playful ness the worker ended our meet and greet that was it they said no match no 2nd chance no other spot I left in tears and left behind the new dog I already named Issabella, both dogs were very friendly they needed a stress free meeting place like my home, we have not since looked for another dog!

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I have noticed a lot of adopters that come to the shelter I work with are doing their homework about adoptions, and their homework is telling them that a dog introductions is the way to go. Frequently, before they are made aware of the mandatory dog introduction policy we have, they are saying "Is there a way to see if my dog gets along with Fido?" I find this to be encouragingand eexciting.
On another note, this particular shelter is a very busy place, and sees a ton of traffic. Therefore, bringing the resident dog to our shelter is obviously stressful for them. If the dog is apparently stressed when he arrives, we let the dogs spend time together in the yard without allowing a lot of direct contact. We let the visiting dog let us know how he is feeling. If he is stressed and "not in the mood" for making new friends, we simply let him investigate the yards, and allow the family to bring in their dog for another visit. The second visit is ALWAYS remarkably different, and usually gives the visiting dog a chance to "process" his experience at the shelter. We always encourage families to take their dog for a special treat before returning home (whoknows if this helps but it can't hurt!) It is definitely a lot to ask of a potential adopter, but at the point of a dog intro it seems many families are very invested in the new dog and are willing to go a little further, but it is just as important that the shelter gives a little, too. Such as scheduling a time for the family to return to eliminate waiting, and extending the hold on the dog to be more accomodating to the family's schedule.

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Although you mention foster homes in your initial paragraph, the rest of the article makes it quite clear that you are really only talking about the kind of rescues that get large numbers of dogs coming into relatively poor kennel environments, not rescues that work largely or entirely via foster homes, to which none of this applies.  I think it's unusual for a foster home to get another foster within a day, they won't be doing introductions in a crowded and scary kennel or busy exercise yard, and because fosterers only usually have one or two dogs to rehome at a time, they ought to be able to do side by side walking, meeting up at a safe location. 

It also ignores the problem of 'bouncing' dogs - what's the point in rehoming them if they are going to come bouncing back into the rescue (or, some other rescue)?  And every time that happens, the dog gets more stressed and harder to home the next time.     As a fosterer, I'd rather take my time and do the job once, properly, to a committed home that is prepared to go through a minor inconvenience and will stay in touch, than rush things to get the next dog in through the door -  and have a dog returned, all messed up a second time, or a third, or a fourth.   If they can't be bothered to bring their dog to a meetup, what else can't they be bothered with?  And how long before that 'can't be bothered' attitude starts causing behavioural problems? 

OK, blanket policies are a bad idea, but I believe that doing introductions as the standard approach, with exemption for people who have really good reasons for not being able to do them makes much more sense than chucking the baby out with the bathwater. 

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The BIGGER PROBLEM is the rescue staff turning down good people from adopting them for stupid reasons!! Get real and let those animals have fur ever homes. Quit being so picky!

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