An Ethogram of The Shelter Dog


What is an “ethogram”?


Wikipedia’s definition of an ethogram:

“An ethogram is a catalogue of the discrete behaviors typically employed by a species.  These behaviors are sufficiently stereotyped that an observer may record the number of such acts, or the amount of time engaged in the behaviours in a time budget.”

In testing thousands of shelter dogs using Assess-A-Pet™, I have amassed a collection of behaviors and behavior patterns that commonly occur during testing.  These occur most frequently and obviously during Sociability testing, but can also be seen during the Teeth Exam tests, the Hug test, the Baby Doll tests and others. But the behaviors described in this ethogram are useful for any dog professional to be able to identify and observe. And they can be seen in any dogs, from puppies to seniors, owned pets to feral dogs, problem dogs as well as problem-free dogs. Being able to observe these behaviors helps gives us all an objective and clearer way to interact with dogs, helps keep our emotional attachments from clouding our actions, and ultimately can help us make better decisions for training, handling, re-homing and interacting. The more we can observe, the better we can ultimately communicate with dogs.

The unique quality of doing any testing with shelter dogs, is that they are a population of dogs that are all in the same basic environment (kennels), essentially detached from any owners, and are available in large numbers. Testing for Sociability is the first part of Assess-A-Pet™, and takes about two minutes. The behaviors listed in this article can be used with any type of assessment, whether it’s a trainer in someone’s home, a breed rescuer in someone’s home, a veterinary technician in the exam room, or a shelter staff-person or volunteer using Assess-A-Pet™ or any other shelter dog temperament test. I have listed these behaviors here in alphabetical order, with a general description of each one.

I will share my observations and interpretations of some of these behaviors later on.  Some of these behaviors I commonly witness in clusters, and have seen correlations between some responses and other parts of Assess-A-Pet™.  I will also share which behaviors occur more in dogs that ultimately pass Assess-A-Pet™ and which behaviors are seen more often in dogs who end up failing one or more parts of the test.