Ross School - Senior Project 2008-09

Student: Antonia Lenzer

Mentor: Patricia Lein

Title: Canine Temperament Testing Relating to Adoption


The focus of my project was to understand the nature of temperament training and testing and their purposes in ensuring the healthy adoption of animals into families. To achieve this goal, I worked with Melissa Tiska, an adoption coordinator at ARF, on assessing the temperament of dogs at the shelter. To document my work, I have created a website to catalog my experiences with several dogs at ARF. For example, I noted their personalities and what type of family they would respond best to. I also used the method of temperament testing to asses the personality of dogs currently residing in families (these experiences are also chronicled on my website) . I chose this project because I am interested in both animals and psychology so canine behavior testing seemed like the perfect choice. Because of all o the research I have been doing, I can now asses how a dog is feeling according to his or her body language. I have also learned about building a website using the iWeb software.


Dogs have been an important part of human life for at least 12,000 years. Canine Temperament has always been important because even 12,000 years ago, when humans would select which dog they wanted as their companion; they would look at his or her behavior and characteristics. This directly relates to my topic of canine temperament testing.

When I was choosing my project I knew I wanted a project that would incorporate my interests of psychology, animal behavior, and graphic design. After discussing with my parents and my mentor Patty Lein, the idea of making a book about animal behavior seemed to be the perfect project. I wanted to make a book because I had used the photo book program on iphoto and I really loved it.  I also wanted to do a project that raised awareness about the importance of animal adoption. I got his idea because for my media activism project in 11th grade I made a brochure focusing on animal overpopulation and the significance of adoption rather then commercial breeding. When working on this project I realized how serious the degree of animal overpopulation is and I really wanted to continue promoting adoption as a solution, for my senior project.

Over the summer I volunteered at ARF, the animal rescue foundation of the Hamptons. I also ordered some books on canine behavior from Amazon, so I was able to do a lot of research before I came back to school. At the end of the summer, Melissa Tiska, an adoption coordinator at ARF, who became my outside consultant, suggested that I come to ARF during the school year and do temperament testing on some dogs with her. At this point I wasnÕt quite sure what temperament testing was or what this would entail.

The partnership for animal welfare defines canine temperament as Ōthe general attitude a dog displays towards people and other animals. It is the combined inherited and acquired physical and mental traits that influence the dogs behavior.Ķ

For my project I focused on canine temperament and how it affects adoption. Although temperament is hereditary, meaning that it can be bred for, it is also influenced by the dogÕs experiences, relationships, and environment. My experiences at ARF primarily focused on how their shelter assesses the temperament of their dogs. At ARF they use a temperament testing form to asses and record canine behavior. Some of information relates to play drive, aggression, interaction with humans, interaction with other animals, walking temperament, how the dog behaves in the car, and how the dog acts in the kennel.

By going though these exercises the adoption coordinators and trainers are able to really get to know the dogs, as well as identify and address possible behavioral problems. This is why this field interested me so much because this aspect is a direct tie to psychology. The form they used is in a sort of checklist format and is displayed in the lobby with the dogÕs photo and other information for potential adopters to review. When Melissa and I would do the temperament testing the information we acquired was completely field-based research. We actually would test the dog in each situation. For example, when we were testing how he or she behaves in the car we would literally bring the dog into the car, drive around, and record our findings.

My main project goal was to inform the public about how important temperament testing is when adopting a dog. I feel that if all shelters had a comprehensive behavioral form like ARF does adoptions would be much more successful. I also wanted to provide information about canine body language because I think it is a very helpful thing to know in order to have healthy interactions with dogs. Another important goal for me was to successfully incorporate all of my interests of psychology, graphic design, and animal behavior.

For my project I went to ARF once or twice a week to do temperament testing with Melissa Tiska. When I got home each day I would write a reflection about my experience with each dog. I would also take photos and short videos of each dog and scan their temperament form and kennel card onto my computer. Based on what I had learned at ARF, I made my own temperament testing form to test dogs that are already parts of families. I tested the Allardice family dogs as well as the Lein family dogs. I then put all of the information onto a website I made using the iweb software.

My website consisted of a project description, a temperament testing description, a canine body language page, a thank you page, a work cited page, and a conclusion.  The dogs I worked with were separated into ARF dogs and family dogs. Each ARF dog page had at least one picture of them, a picture of their kennel card, a picture of their temperament form, a description of their temperament, what kind of family would be best for them, a reflection of my day with them, and a video of them during the temperament testing process.

I had many challenges during the senior project process. One of them was finding time to do the temperament testing with Melissa, my outside consultant. Due to the fact that she is a full time adoption coordinator, and I am a student, we both had busy schedules and played a lot of phone tag. We were able to overcome this obstacle by setting up two specific days and times where I would come to ARF every week, this worked out very well. It was also difficult for me to decide on what my product would be. Even though I knew I wanted to do something involving temperament testing I didnÕt know what medium I would use to display it. Originally I wanted to make a book, but after discussing this with my mentor, Patty Lein, and Devon Parkes, we realized that a website would be more successful because I needed to incorporate both text and video. Another challenge had to do with the fact that ARF was an active adoption center. When it would have been useful to temperament test a dog more then once, I sometimes wasnÕt able to do so due to the fact that the dog would be adopted. The hardest part of my project by far was finding a website building software. I probably did a free trial on every online website building software there is and every time there was something wrong. It was either way too expensive, it had terrible reviews, or it just wasnÕt what I wanted. Once I was completely overwhelmed and frustrated, Patty lein suggested that I meet with Urban. Urban gave me a lot of great options, one of them being a program called iweb that had been on my computer the whole time. I tried iweb and it was exactly what I had been looking for, it was very similar to the book program on iphoto that I had loved. It was great because there were enough options that I could design it the way I wanted, but it was also simple enough that I could understand it without having any web building experience. 

Although I had some challenges, all of the things IÕve learned and skills IÕve acquired have been worth the struggle. I definitely learned web-building techniques. Even though I didnÕt use the hardest website building software there is, I feel like IÕve learned a lot and I would feel confident building another website. While I volunteered at ARF I participated in dog training classes where I learned basic training techniques. IÕm really glad that I was able to learn this because now when I adopt my own dog in the future I will know how to train him or her in a successful manner. Through both my reference research and my field-based research, I was able to learn about canine temperament and body language. IÕm glad a learned this as well because knowing how to read a dogs body language is really important anytime your interacting with one. For example, when approaching an unfamiliar dog, if the ears are pinned back, that may be a sign that he or she is nervous about the encounter. One of the most significant things I took out of this experience was understanding the importance of getting to know a dog before adoption. After meeting so many dogs, and seeing how unique each one is, thinking of adopting or purchasing one without really learning about his or her behavior and characteristics seems unwise as it may lead to an unhealthy adoption. I also learned the importance of adoption itself. There are so many amazing dogs and cats that need homes, that I think, are just as or even more special than commercially bred dogs and cats. Through this project I became aware that in the future I still have an interest in studying animal behavior but I do not want to become an animal behaviorist.

Works Consulted

Aloff, Brenda. Canine Body Language : A Photographic Guide: Interpreting the Native Language of the Domestic Dog. Grand Rapids: Dogwise, 2005. This book helped me so much during my project due to the fact that there were so many great photos. I also liked how simply put everything was. Although it was somewhat like a photo book, there was so much information and it really helped me understand the complexity canine body language.

Bekoff, Marc, and Jane Goodall. The Emotional Lives of Animals : A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy - And Why They Matter. Chicago: New World Library, 2007.

Bergman, Goran. Why Does Your Dog Do That? New York: Macmillan General Reference, 1971.

Clark, Robert. "Wolf to Woof: The Evolution of Dogs @" National Geographic Magazine. Dec. 2008 <

Coren, Stanley. How to Speak Dog : Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication. New York: Simon & Schuster, Limited, 2001. This book was extremely informative. The author dedicated whole chapters to the different movements of body parts and what they mean. Not only does Coren write about animal behavior, but he also talks about human behavior and how we often misread and mislead their canine companions. This book also taught me that dogs really can understand words and what they are associated with. This was really important for me to know when I was interacting with dogs at ARF.

"Dog Tip: Assessing Shelter Dogs and Temperament Testing." Partnership for Animal Welfare. Dec. 2009 <>.

Hirst, K. Kris. "Dog History: How Were Dogs Domesticated?" Archeology. Dec. 2008 <>.

The Language of Dogs. Dir. Sarah Kalnajs. Perf. Sarah Kalnajs. DVD. Blue Dog Training & Behavior LLC, 2007. My outside consultant Melissa Tiska gave me this video. I consider it to be one of my most valuable sources because it was extremely informative and extremely easy to comprehend. Sarah Kalnajs speaks about a certain behavior or movement and then show footage of a dog actually doing it. The most important thing I learned from the video is that everything should be taken in context. Just because a dog does something that could be associated with stress does not necessarily mean that he or she is stressed.

McConnell, Patricia B. For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend. New York: Ballantine Books, 2007.

Community Member (Details)

Name: Melissa Tiska

Occupation: Adoption Coordinator at ARF