Evaluation of a behavioral assessment questionnaire for use in the characterization of behavioral problems of dogs relinquished to animal shelters

Sheila A. Segurson DVM1, James A. Serpell PhD2, and Benjamin L. Hart DVM, PhD, DACVB3
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  • 1 Center for Companion Animal Health, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, CA 95616.
  • | 2 Department of Clinical Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6010.
  • | 3 Behavior Service, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, University of California, Davis, CA 95616.


Objective—To evaluate a behavioral intake questionnaire in animal shelters for the presence of biased results and assess its use in the characterization of behavioral problems of dogs relinquished to shelters.

Design—Cross-sectional study.

Animals—54 dogs being relinquished to a shelter and 784 dogs belonging to veterinary clients.

Procedure—Owners who were relinquishing their dogs and agreed to complete the behavioral questionnaire were alternately assigned to 1 of 2 groups; participants were aware that information provided would be confidential or nonconfidential (ie, likely used for adoption purposes). Data from confidential and nonconfidential information groups were compared, and the former were compared with data (collected via the questionnaire) regarding a population of client-owned dogs.

Results—Analyses revealed significant differences in 2 areas of reported problem behavior between the confidential and nonconfidential information groups: owner-directed aggression and stranger-directed fear. Compared with client-owned–group data, significantly more relinquished shelter dogs in the confidential information group were reported to have ownerdirected aggression, stranger-directed aggression, dog-directed aggression or fear, stranger-directed fear, nonsocial fear, and separation-related behaviors.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Among persons relinquishing dogs to a shelter, those who believed questionnaire responses were confidential reported owner-directed aggression and fear of strangers in their pets more frequently than relinquishers who believed responses were nonconfidential. Confidentiality had no apparent effect on the reporting of other assessed behavioral problems. Results suggest that behavioral questionnaires may sometimes provide inaccurate information in a shelter setting, but the information may still be useful when evaluating behavior of relinquished dogs. (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2005;227:1755–1761)