Formal Assessment Tools for Dog Behavior Consultants

Written by Elisheba Fay

reviewed

Summary: A review of formal and semiformal tools that have been developed to quantify and assess dog behaviors. Some have been validated by academic research, others have not been studied formally, but are in regular use in shelters. Pros and cons are listed for each tool, as well as potential applications for companion dog trainers and behavior consultants.


Dog training and behavior consulting have traditionally relied on informal assessment methods, primarily observation, for determining baseline behaviors and progress toward goals. Observational methods remain the most commonly used method of assessment across a variety of settings. There are more formal observation methods, including collection of quantitative data and/or specific body language observations through video analysis. These tools are an increasingly accessible and powerful source of data for decision-making in behavior consulting.

There has been a drive for more formal assessment methods in sheltering contexts to predict placement success, and in assistance dog contexts to identify successful candidates as early as possible in the extensive training process, but until more recently the development of formal behavior assessment for pet dogs already in homes has been relatively limited. Now, however, there are an increasing number of formal and semiformal assessment options that may supplement the pet dog practitioner’s toolbox and help promote data-driven decision-making within the profession.

Semiformal assessments

These are assessments created by expert practitioners that assess behavior using a standardized framework but haven’t been evaluated by scientific research.

CARAT: The Clothier Animal Response Assessment Tool™1

About

The CARAT assessment produces an individual profile through scoring behavior observations. This assessment produces a detailed report addressing a dog’s scores for five main areas: core, awareness, persistence, interaction, and social, broken down into 18 sub-scores as well as scores for social confidence, environmental confidence, and self-modulation.

Pros

CARAT can be used to evaluate dogs’ suitability, strengths, and needs in a variety of contexts that includes companion dogs but is also suitable in shelter/rescue/foster, assistance/guide/hearing/service, and K9/military contexts. The report includes information about the dog’s arousal profile, sensory sensitivity, persistence, strengths, and needs, as well as describing their environmental needs at home and in the community.

Cons

While the assessment itself is very helpful and produces detailed, pertinent information, it requires a certified assessor and the certification process requires a substantial financial and time investment, often taking several years to complete. Because of this barrier, it may be difficult to find a certified assessor.

Three littermate profiles showing scores for different areas of confidence, taken from Suzanne Clothier's assessment tools.

Image of three littermate profiles, used with permission from Susanne Clothier

Leslie McDevitt’s FLIRT (Frequency, FLexibility, Intensity, Recovery, Threshold) assessment

About

This assessment provides a structure for rating five important characteristics (frequency, flexibility, intensity, recovery, and threshold) of challenging behaviors on a simple 1-10 scale. It’s intended to be completed by the behavior consultant with the owner, unlike some other assessments that can be completed by the owner alone.

Pros

FLIRT is easily accessible to practitioners (outlined in McDevitt’s book Control Unleashed: Reactive to Relaxed2), and can help structure decisions about when to include additional supports such as a veterinary behaviorist in the training/treatment team. It’s quick to complete and can be used for progress monitoring.

Cons

This assessment is less structured and standardized than some of the others available. It focuses on one behavior at a time, so it needs to be completed for each concerning behavior separately. It can only address behaviors that are already identified as problematic by the owner/handler, so it should be used in combination with a thorough history and possibly other more widespread assessments that could identify concerning behaviors the owner doesn’t identify.

Susan Friedman’s Functional Assessment and Intervention Design (FAID)3

About

This interview-based assessment provides a detailed structure for investigation of concerning behaviors through an ABA (applied behavior analysis) framework.

Pros

The FAID identifies not only the target behavior(s), direct antecedents and consequences, but potentially underlying factors (distant antecedents) such as nutrition, sleep, and daily schedule. It also helps begin development of the behavior modification plan, including identification of replacement behaviors and antecedent arrangements, and tracking/data collection planning.

Cons

Because this framework is so thorough, it will take time to complete. The plans developed will require significant investment of client time and effort to maintain. Most cases probably don’t require this level of detail to achieve results, but for more serious behaviors and intractable problems it should definitely be considered.

Formal (research-based) behavior assessments

C-BARQ (Canine Behavioral Assessment & Research Questionnaire)4

About

The C-BARQ is a client questionnaire that measures 14 areas covering a wide array of behaviors including human- and dog-directed fear and aggression, separation-related problems, energy, and excitability, and compares scores to the average for demographically similar dogs. It also flags potential compulsive behaviors such as light/shadow-chasing and fly-snapping.

Pros

This questionnaire is easy to complete online and produces easy-to-interpret color-coded scoring reports. It can be completed multiple times for progress monitoring, with scores saved to a practitioner’s “group” database. It can be used in a variety of contexts including service dogs, sheltering, breeding, and scientific applications (its validity and reliability have been documented) in addition to assessing behavior in pet dogs. For cat behavior consultants, there is also a FeBARQ!

Cons

Though it is free for individuals, it’s not free for practitioners and groups (though it is still inexpensive — I pay $100/year.)  In order to receive the results from client questionnaires, they must make specific selections and input a code in the process of adding their dog to the database. If they miss some of this information, there is a more complex workaround option to get the scores to the behavior consultant, but you’ll have the score graph only, not access to the profile as a whole.

A horizontal bar chart showing different scores for various behavior issues, in comparison to the surveyed average.

A sample score report, used with permission from James Serpell

Dog Personality Questionnaire (DPQ)5

About

This assessment measures five factors, more behavioral than personality-based as the name implies: fearfulness, aggression towards people, aggression towards animals, activity/excitability, and responsiveness to training in a client-administered questionnaire. It’s available in a long (75 item) and short (45 item) form.

Pros

The DPQ’s validity and reliability have been measured, and it’s free to use. The short form is available in a self-scoring online format that produces a nice graph, similar to the C-BARQ.

Cons

The paper version (even the short form) is a lot to score by hand. While the online short form is self-scoring, there’s no way to save the scores or send them to the behavior consultant (other than a screenshot). Because of this, the online form has limited value for progress monitoring. It’s also hosted through a website with tons of ads.

University of Lincoln Suite of Assessment Tools

This is a great set of tools developed by Dr. Daniel Mills’ team in the Animal Behaviour, Cognition and Welfare Group at the University of Lincoln for measuring a variety of common behavior consulting needs. Because these are all structured and accessed similarly, I’ll describe the pros and cons together.

The Dog Impulsivity Assessment Scale (DIAS)6

The DIAS produces an Overall Questionnaire score as well as three sub-scores for Behavioral Regulation (“My dog shows extreme physical signs when excited”), Aggression & Response to Novelty (“My dog becomes aggressive when excited”), and Responsiveness (“My dog is easy to train”).

The Canine Frustration Questionnaire (CFQ)7

The CFQ produces an Overall Questionnaire score and five sub-scores for General Frustration (“My dog becomes frustrated in a large range of situations”), Barrier Frustration (“My dog gets upset if shut away from visitors”), Unmet Expectations (“My dog does not like being left out of activities with other dogs”), Autonomous Control (“My dog will attempt to escape if I try to confine him/her”), and Frustration Coping (“I find it easy to interrupt/distract my dog from doing things he/she wants to do.”)

The Positive And Negative Activation Scale (PANAS) for dogs8

The PANAS measures sensitivity to rewards (Positive Activation) and aversives (Negative Activation) in dogs. The questionnaire produces a Positive and a Negative Overall Questionnaire score and three sub-scores for Energy & Interest (“Your dog is full of energy”), Persistence (“Your dog is very persistent in its efforts to get you to play”), and Excitement (“Your dog becomes very excited when it is about to go for a walk”).

The Lincoln Canine Anxiety Scale (LCAS)9

The LCAS is designed to evaluate a dog’s anxiety in relation to a specific trigger. (It can be repeated for multiple triggers, but for more generalized or trait anxiety, the PANAS may be a more appropriate tool.)  The questionnaire produces an overall score which, unlike several of the other assessments here, is not normed but meant to be used for repeat monitoring over time.

The Lincoln Sound Sensitivity Scale for Dogs (LSSS)10

The LSSS asks clients to rate frequency and intensity of 17 phobia behaviors such as hiding, shaking, panting, and pacing for a single combined score. Scores above 30 indicate a severity for which professional help (likely a veterinary behaviorist) should be involved.

Pros

These free client questionnaires are quick and easy to complete. They can be used for shelter assessment, working dog assessment and initial and progress-monitoring assessment by behavior consultants. They can also be used to determine the relative severity of behavior concerns when deciding on pursuing medication treatment and/or including a veterinary behaviorist on the treatment team. They have all been developed and validated scientifically.

Cons

There is an online self-scoring version for each assessment (accessed by creating a free account and “ordering” the free assessment), which currently works in Firefox but not in Google Chrome. The online version does produce a brief score report, but the scores aren’t saved so you’ll have to keep track of them for data-collection purposes.

There is also a downloadable practitioner-scored version for each assessment. While scoring examples are provided for most tools, the scoring process isn’t completely math-free. Some scores need to be reversed, a little bit of calculator magic to get the overall and factor scores, and comparison with the normal ranges to interpret the scores. It’s within the comfort level of most, but the most math-phobic will want to use the online version.

Honorable mentions: tools we would like to see made available for behavior consultants:

Dog-ADHD RS (Dog Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Rating Scale)11

This simple 13-item questionnaire measures two subscales (Inattention and Activity-Impulsivity). It could provide helpful information and support with decision making about including a veterinary behaviorist in the intervention team.

Monash Canine Personality Questionnaire-Revised (MCPQ-R)12

In this client questionnaire, owners are asked to rate the extent to which 41 adjectives (such as enthusiastic, cautious, or sensitive) apply to their dog. The results are grouped into five personality areas: extraversion, motivation, training focus, amicability, and neuroticism. While personality measures are probably of less value to behavior consultants than assessments that measure behaviors, this tool could be useful in helping clients determine if a dog is a good fit for their family.

Highly Sensitive Dog (HSD) questionnaire13

This client questionnaire measures the personality dimension “canine sensory processing sensitivity” (cSPS), including three subtraits: arousability, perception/reactivity (low sensory threshold), and emotionality. This tool could be particularly helpful in providing client recommendations about environmental and training practices that would best support their dog; one study found that dogs that score high on cSPS were more likely than less sensitive dogs to demonstrate behavior problems when aversive training methods, including both positive and negative punishment, were used.14

Animal Welfare Assessment Grid (AWAG)15

This validated assessment asks evaluators to rate areas such as physical (mobility/activity, medical), psychological (frequency and intensity of stressors), environmental (choice and control, enrichment), and procedural. It creates both a composite graph that shows welfare over time (this assessment is meant for repeated monitoring) and a grid that shows all four parameters as a polygon. Interestingly, higher scores and larger polygon size in this assessment indicate decreased welfare. Currently this assessment can only be accessed through the study, but later this year it will become available to practitioners. This assessment is likely to be most useful to behavior consultants for informing decisions about rehoming and behavioral euthanasia.

A chart showing behavior change over time

A sample Welfare Assessment Grid

Sample data graphs used with permission from Rachel Malkani

Use of science-based behavior assessments can be a great adjunct to narrative intake questionnaires and observational methods for both initial evaluation and ongoing progress monitoring. They are also one avenue by which we can continue building professionalism and standards in the field of dog behavior consulting. I hope you’ll try out one or more of these options to broaden your assessment toolbox!

References

  1. Clothier, S. (n.d.). Clothier Animal Response Assessment Tool (CARAT). Last accessed 5/31/23.
  2. McDevitt, L. (2019) Control Unleashed: Reactive to Relaxed. Clean Run Productions LLC, MA.
  3. Friedman, S.G. (2009) Functional assessment: Hypothesizing predictors and purposes of problem behavior to improve behavior-change plans. PDF, last accessed 5/31/23.
  4. Hsu, Y., & Serpell, J. A. (2003) Development and validation of a questionnaire for measuring behavior and temperament traits in pet dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 223(9), 1293-1300.
  5. Jones, A. C., (2009) Development and validation of a dog personality questionnaire. Ph.D. Thesis. University of Texas, Austin.
  6. Wright, H.F., Mills, D.S., Pollux, P.M.J., (2011) Development and validation of a psychometric tool for assessing impulsivity in the domestic dog. International Journal of Comparative Psychology, 24, 210-225.
  7. McPeake, K.J., Collins, L.M., Zulch, H., and Mills, D.S., (2019) The Canine Frustration Questionnaire-development of a new psychometric tool for measuring frustration in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 6, 152.
  8. Sheppard, G., & Mills, D. (2002) The development of a psychometric scale for the evaluation of the emotional predispositions of pet dogs. International Journal of Comparative Psychology, 15(2).
  9. Mills, D.S., Müller, H. W., McPeake, K. J., & Engel, O. (2020), Development and psychometric validation of the lincoln canine anxiety scale. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 7, 171.
  10. University of Lincoln (2023) The Lincoln Sound Sensitivity Scale for Dogs. University of Lincoln Assessment Tools Store, last accessed 5/31/23.
  11. Vas, J., Topál, J., Péch, É. & Miklósi, A. (2007). Measuring attention deficit and activity in dogs: A new application and validation of a human ADHD questionnaire. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 105-117.
  12. Ley, J. M., Bennett, P.C., & Coleman, G.J. (2009). A refinement and validation of the Monash Canine Personality Questionnaire (MCPQ). Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 116(2), 220-227.
  13. Braem M, Asher L, Furrer S, Lechner I, Würbel H, & Melotti, L (2017) Development of the “Highly Sensitive Dog” questionnaire to evaluate the personality dimension “Sensory Processing Sensitivity” in dogs. PLoS ONE 12(5): e0177616.
  14. Bräm Dubé, M., Asher, L., Würbel, H., Riemer, S., & Melotti, L. (2020). Parallels in the interactive effect of highly sensitive personality and social factors on behaviour problems in dogs and humans. Nature: Scientific Reports, 10.
  15. Malkani, R., Paramasivam, S., & Wolfensohn, S. (2022). Preliminary validation of a novel tool to assess dog welfare: The Animal Welfare Assessment Grid. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 9.

Elisheba Fay BA, BS, CDBC, CPDT-KA, is a trainer and behavior consultant in the Denver area. She dabbles in sports with her own five dogs when not enjoying decompression walks on the plains. You can reach her at www.artandscience.dog.

TO CITE: Fay, E. (2023) Formal Assessment Tools for Dog Behavior Consultants. The IAABC Foundation Journal 27, doi: 10.55736/iaabcfj27.2

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