This week I spent a couple of days with Sue Sternberg learning how to evaluate dogs for aggression. The seminar was intended largely for shelter workers; it focused on determining whether a shelter dog is adoptable. But even for a doggie daycare owner, the it was excellent!!
Sue has been evaluating dogs for years and her method has been studied and determined to be statistically predictive of aggression. That's impressive enough. But what really struck me was her commitment to open-minded education and dialog. She euthanizes unadoptable dogs at her shelter and I had always been against that. After listening to her experiences and the litany of misery that dogs endure in long-term kenneling situations, I'm now open to the euthanasia solution. She's a person with a big heart - it shows when she teaches; that's what convinced me that if there were another solution besides euthanizing unadoptable dogs, she would have found it.
Her method ranks dogs as (1) okay for the average family (2) in need of a firm hand with people who have clear desires and limits in terms of how they'll live with a dog, and (3) dogs that need to live with a dog professional. Before she taught us the procedure for evaluating a dog, she took us through a whole day of learning how to observe details in the dog's behavior, then collect a set of observations to make the judgment. For example, a stiff posture and upright tail don't mean anything clear all by themselves. But if the dog gives those cues, plus a hard stare, and a lack of interest in socializing with the handler, then then the dog could very well be a biter. I was impressed with the "gather a set of data" approach. It seemed much more scientific then approaches that assign meaning to specific behaviors. It allows for differences among individuals.
If you're a dog professional of any kind go to a Sue Sternberg seminar!
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