Sunday, March 2, 2014

Minnesota Animal Welfare Conference: Aditi Terpstra on Food Guarding and Adoption Outcomes

In *cough*May*cough*, I attended the 12th Annual Minnesota Animal Welfare Conference, which was focused on behavior. It was a great day of speakers and info, and I’m really glad I went. Today’s post is a summary of Aditi Terpstra’s presentation on food guarding. Aditi is a CPDT-KA who runs Urbane Animal. She is also the dog program director for the Winona Animal Humane Society, a back-up animal control officer for Winona, MN, and an independent contractor for the ASPCA. She’s also a really cool person.

Zombie Dog resource guards caffeine. That's okay, he's probably still adoptable.
Aditi introduced the ASPCA SAFER assessment in her presentation, which was geared towards shelter workers. The SAFER is not a temperament test; it’s not a pass/fail exam, but rather a snapshot of current behavior, focusing on aggression. Each dog is assessed and assigned a score ranging from 1 to 5, and these scores help shelter workers determine the resources needed in order to place the dog safely. Food guarding is just one area on the SAFER, but it’s an important area to single out as a survey of shelters showed that food guarding is one of the top reasons dogs were deemed not eligible for adoption. Only 34% of the shelters responding to the survey attempted behavior modification for this behavior problem.

What I found very interesting was that the Wisconsin Human Society (2004) did research that suggests that behavior mod in the shelter setting wasn’t even necessary in some cases! In this research, 96 dogs had scores of 3-5 (indicating stiffening, freezing, gulping, growling, or biting a fake hand) on the food aggression section of the SAFER assessment. These dogs were sent home on a “food program” for the new adopters to follow. This program includes advice to avoid conflict around the food bowl, to make mealtime a non-event, and to require a sit (or other simple behavior) before the bowl is put on the floor. They had adopters put small amounts in the bowl at first, and then adding more gradually. Dropping high value food treats was also recommended, in addition to providing a “foraging device” (ie, Kong or other food toy) to the dogs. Only six adopters (out of 96!) reported guarding behaviors in the first 3 weeks. The dogs were followed for three months, and in that time, only one dog was returned. This means that 95 “unadoptable” animals were successful placed!

I’ll admit, I have concerns about liability, but the researchers did not. They were very transparent about the dog’s issues, and provided pre-adoption education and follow-up support. Definitely an interesting presentation. If you’d like more information, you can visit the following links:

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