Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Temperament Assessments

One of our Doglando mums suggested I write about the temperament assessments our dogs go through prior their enrollment into Doglando's Enrichment program. Great topic, but certainly not something that is easy to write about, or clearly outlined like a recipe for baking cookies, or standardized. I thought long about how I would write about Doglando's Temperament Assessment, and the answer is I can't. In our belief, a temperament assessment is nothing more than an assessment of a beings temperament to stress. It is a being's ability to feel stressed, and the measure of recovery or ability to cope and adjust. There are no two identical human beings, there are no two identical canine beings. If you have ever seen the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders), you will find there to be an overlap of similarities of certain characteristics within a variety of mental health disorders. Like that, I am sure we could one day create one for dogs, for now, we use the name of the dogs we have to describe other dogs that are more complex.... lol. For internal communication this works well for us, and sometimes we even use crosses between two dogs. I love this technique, because it keeps us away from labeling dogs, something that trainers are very quick in doing... yet often disregarding each persons interpretation of that label. Jokes aside, our temperament assessment allows us to provoke dogs in a mild way, such as a collar grab, or by blocking them off a dog they want to greet, or holding them back from seeing their parents at pick up time, and its a constant test to teach dogs to display better coping skills to many of life's unfair situations. Based on the temperament assessments we conduct, we are able to determine each dogs needs for the lack of training, social opportunities, ability to coexist, intolerances, and challenges so that we are not setting the dog up for failure. Sometimes we will have a family come in with a dog that they want to enroll in our enrichment program 3-4 times a week, but after conducting a TA we learn that the dog does not need that level of stimulation. Based on the dogs lifestyle and families lifestyle, we can build the dog up to handle 3-4 days a week, but it would take us some time... we would not want to start off on that. Maybe the dog is overweight and unable to handle the level of physical workout.... just like you would not throw yourself into an intense work out program four times a week and expect to last without injuries or fatigue, we would not do that to a dog who has spent its life as a couch potato. Take for example a dog this is fearful, or even just timid/shy. Limiting this dogs exposure to stressors (things around which these emotions/feelings and ultimately unhealthy behavior is induced) acts as a disservice to the dog. Dogs are creatures of survival, they don't like feeling this way but are made to because of our lack of understanding, or even ability to provide what the dog actually needs. On the other hand, we may have a dog that has not had the experiences to socialize with other dogs, and people, a dog that shows desire to play, is young and in good shape, and energetic, but has no social skill set. It would be a disservice to the dog to enroll him/her only once a week, enduring the level of stress and conflict it would have to endure while it learns the sport and rules before playing the game and only allowed to practice it once a week, then 6 days off. In this case, we need more practice to perfect the skill, and increased frequency. Or for example we have an exuberant dog that runs non stop, or plays fetch until your arm falls out of its socket. A dog like this who has no "off switch" and must be made to turn off would poise a great danger to itself and us if allowed only once a week. Living in Florida, it does not take the summer to induce heat stroke in a dog like this... it could happen even in the coolest of months. This dog must learn balance, and in order to teach the dog balance, we must meet its needs steadily and consistently. This is also a dog we would have to see more than once a week. Juggling a dog's needs and the parents limitations (time and money being the main two) is very difficult. For one, most of us have dogs that don't suite our lifestyles, or we have lifestyles that don't suite our dogs best. But, it is what it is, and we have to make it work.... given that.... our temperament assessment tool is a very involved evaluation of how best we can help meet the dogs needs as well as the needs of the pet parents. I don't know how you feel about standardized testing for your child.... but I (don't have kids) but strongly dislike them. Beyond the test, its the environment that the test is taken in that I find unsuitable for success. I speak for myself here. This is what prevents me from furthering my own education, I FREEZE when I have to take tests.

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