July 9, 2009 at 7:10 pm 22 comments

Comments on this post on Tamara Follett’s program of blatant self-promotion Canine-Threat Assessment Guide over at YesBiscuit  annoyed me enough that I felt I had to write this post.  Dangerous dogs aren’t born – they’re created by ignorant and / or inattentive owners.  We don’t need a system to assess the potential danger a dog poses to society- we need one that puts responsibility squarely where it’s needed – on the shoulders of dog owners.

Dog Owner Threat Assessment Guide (DO-TAG)
Categorization of Dog Owners by Risk Factors

The goal of this draft guide is to provide a free, easy-to-use tool for authorities to employ in assessing a given dog owner’s risk  to his dog and the public.  The guide could allow local authorities to identify potentially problematic dog owners with regard to their real or potential threat so that limited resources can be focused on those dog owners most likely to have unplanned litters, encourage aggressive behavior in their dogs, let them run at large or otherwise engage in potentially dangerous and/or antisocial behaviors.

As one small step toward this goal I have created this draft assessment guide that lets you determine the level of threat you pose to society as a dog owner.  The test not only places risk where it belongs, but it also allows your score to change over time.  Answer each question honestly, sum up the points and see what kind of risk you present to society.

1. When you call your dog does he:
  I would never let my dog off leash!  7
  Only come if you have cheese or other treats in your hand? 5
  Come unless he’s distracted? 3
  Come as long as there are no large distractions like animals or people present? 2
  Turn and come even if he’s at a full run after a critter. -5
2. When you are gone your dog is:
  Running loose – he needs his freedom1!* 10
  Chained up out front to scare off intruders. 12
  Chained or on a tie-out in an area where people pass by. 8
  Loose in an area contained by an invisible fence. 8
  Loose in a fenced yard with people and dogs in adjacent areas. 6
  In a secure kennel in a quiet area. 1
  Loose in my house where he doesn’t get in trouble. 0
  Crated in my house because he needs more training. 0
  Crated in my house because he’s destructive and can’t be trained. 6
3. When you walk your dog on leash:
  I don’t have time to walk my dog, he gets plenty of exercise playing in the yard. 10
  I have to do it at a time when no one is around because of his aggression. 10
  He constantly drags me down the street no matter what I do. 8
  I let him run loose to check out the neighborhood. 9
  He’s good except when other people and dogs walk past. 3
  He walks politely by my side even around distractions. 0
  I don’t need the leash, he’ll heel around distractions without it. -2
4. When you groom your dog:
  I have to muzzle him to touch parts of his body. 8
  My dog doesn’t need any grooming. 10
  I have to take him to a vet or groomer, I’m afraid to groom him. 9
  He doesn’t like it but he puts up with it. 2
  He enjoys grooming! 0
5. When your dog misbehaves:
  I lose my temper.  The little b*$+d does it just to annoy me. 10
  I get frustrated because it happens so often. 6
  I sometimes ignore him because I’m busy. 8
  I usually discover what he’s done after the fact. 8
  I ignore it and hope the behavior will self-extinguish. 8
  I scold or correct him then move on. 5
  I correct the behavior then praise him for stopping or changing the behavior 1
  I look forward to it as a training opportunity. 0
  My darling little snookums never misbehaves! 15
6. Your dog is:
  The victim of terrible abuse and will to be treated with kid gloves forever. 10
  My perfect baby. 10
  Just a dog. 5
  A dog with a dog’s needs and desires. 0
7. When children are around:
  I leave my dog alone with them. He’s perfectly safe. 10
  I lock my dog up. He hates kids. 7
  I watch the dog. 4
  I always keep an eye on the dog and the kids. 0
  My dog has never been around children. 8
8. I have two or more dogs because:
  I don’t have time to entertain one. This way they entertain each other when I’m busy. 10
  I only have one dog because I don’t have time, space or money for more. 0
  I only have one dog because my dog hates other dogs. 8
  I have the time, energy, space, money and other resources I need to enjoy them all. 0
  I know I can take better care of them than anyone else.** 20
9. Your dog was:
  Spayed or neutered at your request at less than six months of age. 2
  Spayed or neutered at your request at more than six months of age. 0
  Spayed or neutered before you got it. 0
  Intact because he / she has papers. 8
  Intact because he / she would feel bad without all his / her parts. 7
  Intact because health and temperament tests show he / she is an excellent example of the breed. 0
  Intact because the breeder wants a puppy back from him / her. 8
  Intact because you’re too busy, broke or disorganized to deal with it. 10
  Spayed or neutered for health reasons (this includes not being a great representative of his/her breed). 0
10. Your dog obeys commands like sit, down and stay:
  My dog doesn’t need training. 10
  Only if I have treats in my hand. 8
  Only if there are no distractions around. 8
  When there are few distractions. 5
  As long as there aren’t big distractions around. 3
  Even around large distractions like other animals and people. 0

*     If you live in a rural area and the dog is a livestock guard dog give yourself one point, not ten.
**  If this is really how you feel, get help. You may be a hoarder.

If your scored:

75 or more points – You are a Potentially Lethal Dog Owner.  Unless you change your ways there is a significant probability that your dog will injure someone seriously or meet an untimely death himself because of your misbehavior. You have no business owning a dog of any kind.

50 to 75 points –  You are a Dangerous Dog Owner.  Your neighbors probably hate you – and your dog.  People walk on the other side of the street to avoid you. There is a significant possibility that your dog will injure a person or another dog.  Please get help!

40 to 50 points –  You are a Problem Dog Owner.  Everyone knows your dog – for all the wrong reasons.  The police know where you live because of neighborhood complaints.  The vet only pretends he’s happy when you come in.  Some people avoid visiting you because they don’t want to deal with your dog.  While he may never bite anyone, your dog runs a significant risk of being euthanized or rehomed for ‘his’ misbehavior.

30 to 40 points –  You are an Annoying Dog Owner.  Your neighbor likes you but sometimes secretly wishes you’d move away. Your kid’s friends don’t want to play with the dog.  And the dog probably spends a lot of its time either being ignored or coddled (or – worse yet, dealing with the confusion of alternating bouts of each).  Your vet likes you, but would give you a much less than glowing referral as a foster home.

20 to 30 points – You are a Reasonable Dog Owner.  Your dog is rarely annoying and his behavior is getting better instead of worse.  People are nearly always glad to see your dog and if they aren’t, he doesn’t bother them.  Your vet would give you a good referral if a breeder or rescue group called.

Less than 20 points – You are an Excellent Dog Owner.  Even if he started out with issues, you have a great dog. Friends and neighbors ask you for dog training advice. 

This guide is a draft.  You are free to copy, use, abuse, insult, change, throw out or otherwise adapt it any way you want.  If you’ve got suggestions, post them as comments here.  I’ll take the ones I think are best (hey – this is my blog) and post an update.


Entry filed under: bsl, dog obedience, dog training, dogs, pets. Tags: , , .

Thought For The Day Bulldog Mauls Orangutan

22 Comments Add your own

  • 1. janwilliams  |  July 9, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    I got different scores for each of my four dogs, but my average was high.

    My dogs have strong verbal skills and you didn’t make that part of your assessment. Just a suggestion. 🙂

    I’m glad Tamara annoyed you. These are good.

  • 2. SmartDogs  |  July 9, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    OK, I’ll bite (pun intended) – what constitutes “strong verbal skills”? Is their bark worse than their bite? Do they speak in entire paragraphs? Are they multilingual?

  • 3. Jill  |  July 10, 2009 at 12:18 am

    Just watched Follett’s YouTube video (linked from comments at YesBiscuit).

    There truly ARE people who should be boiled in oil, and I am just the person to keep the fire going.

  • 4. H. Houlahan  |  July 10, 2009 at 4:16 am

    I LIKE IT.

  • 5. Anissa Roy  |  July 10, 2009 at 6:15 am

    Excellent! I am going to compose a letter to our local Sheriff’s Department and include a printed-out (and properly-attributed) version of the DO-TAG.

    My own dogs’ behavior gives me a score between 9 and 13, depending on the dog. I’m not counting the new boy I brought home this week – he’s a rescue who’s still in need of LOTS of training and socialization.

    Since this is my first-ever comment, I will also say THANK YOU for your fantastic blog. I found you from Heather Houlahan’s blog, which I found through Pat Burns’. Please keep up the good work – there are so many extremist opinions out there, the world badly needs sane, sensible people like you, who also happen to be darned entertaining writers.

  • 6. YesBiscuit!  |  July 10, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    When I’m gone, my dog is surfing the dog blogs and commenting, trying to increase traffic to his site so he can sell more widgets. How many points do I get for that?

  • 7. SmartDogs  |  July 10, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    You get a whopping -10 (-30 if he’ll post comments to increase traffic to my site!)

  • 8. Fred  |  July 10, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    I’m all for behaviour assessments but you really got to be careful with how the results are interpreted and used. I mean, it’s fine to identify dangerous owners and all but then what do you do with them? The shelters are already full of them and I know that most rescues don’t always welcome dangerous owners into their foster programs because, really, how many people, as well-intentioned as they may be, really like fostering dangerous owners? I mean I’ve had a few of them under my roof in my rescue career and I gotta say, alpha rolling those suckers is a pain in the arse.

    So, because no one really wants them, the result is an overpopulation of d.o.’s and the only solution for many jurisdictions is humane euthanasia but is euthanasia ever really humane? I mean, really, is it?

    I think, ideally, we need to establish a sanctuary for dangerous owners where they can live out their lives in a securely locked run – though a spacious one of course with access to water and kibble at all times – where they can be safely guarded from ever owning another dog. With good behaviour they might be allowed access to, say, a pet goldfish possibly graduating to small rodents but of course even that would only be allowed under close supervision.

    Yes, I agree that dangerous owners are a societal problem, possibly on an epidemic scale, but let’s not forget that they are animals too.

  • 9. mittelspitz  |  July 10, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    This system is made of win.

  • 10. puppynerd  |  July 10, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Since I read everything with a critic’s eye, and you did ask for suggestions…

    I’d like to see the ‘grooming’ section clarified a little more. As it’s phrased now, an owner who has someone else trim the nails because they’re afraid of hitting the quick would get what seems to be an unfairly high score.

    Maybe instead of ‘I’m afraid to groom him’ say ‘he won’t let be groom him’.

    Also, maybe give examples of what all is entailed. Do you mean just brushing? A full bath? Nails and teeth?

    In question two, only one of the situations is described as ‘secure’. Either they should all have that qualified (a secure fenced yard, a secure crate in my house) or none of them should. I’m guessing that a ‘kennel in a quiet area’ would describe many rural properties that have a partial fenced yard away from roads of neighbors, but most of them probably don’t think of it that way. Also, there isn’t an option for a dog confined to certain rooms in the house, but not crated, which seems like it would be a common situation.

    In question three, there isn’t any distinction between a dog that needs to be reminded with sit, or watch me to keep from greeting strangers too enthusiastically, and a dog that goes out of his head when he sees certain things (but isn’t pulling *all* the time). Just because he’s incredibly reactive doesn’t mean they actually are walking him when nobody is around.

    I really like question 6. 🙂

    I’m not seeing a huge difference between the ‘dangerous’ and ‘problem’ categories at the end. Could they be combined, or the descriptions changed to make the difference clearer?

    I’m really sorry if that’s more than you were wanting for ‘suggestions’, but I really like proof-reading – blame my high school english teacher. I think it’s a really good idea, and it looks like you spent a lot of time on the scoring.

  • 11. Kim  |  July 11, 2009 at 2:17 am

    Funny – my “Lethal” dog is owned by an apparently Excellent Dog Owner. Lucky for her, huh? Otherwise I’m sure she’d be running around terrorizing some elderly person or child – at least according to the nitwit.

    Could this disparity in results have to do with one test being completely full of $hit?

    Love the test, btw. :O)

  • 12. The learned English dog  |  July 11, 2009 at 3:24 am

    I wouldn’t change a thing.

    Got 22 for my primary dog but this may be a bit off. Esp. with 1 and 7. I never let her off the leash (at least not any time soon except for when I do because we’re in a safe place to practice). She has issues. Said issues are why, although she hasn’t shown any sign of being “reactive” around children, I’m not going to risk letting her around them without her in a muzzle and me watching them.

    Did I miss where you can take the lethal dog assessment without going to the quack website?

  • 13. Lisa  |  July 11, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    This is the best and most productive response to that garbage yet.

    And it’s a really good test in its own right, too. I’d really like to see this get passed around.

    Just a couple of suggestions, for what they’re worth.

    Maybe make some concessions for people who adopted difficult dogs as adults. I have a couple of friends who did that, and while they’re exemplary pet owners, their dogs were unsocialized when they got them. So while the dogs are well trained and well cared for, they might never really be OK off leash. I think those people deserve a lot more credit than someone who is responsible for their dog’s lack of early socialization.

    Also, maybe you could toss in an Aaron Rochester inspired question, to snag people who think their dog is ‘safe’ because of its apparent breed or its size or something like that. In my experience, people who think like that are in denial about their dogs’ lack of training, so their scores will likely be inflated (or, I guess, deflated).

  • 14. Dorene  |  July 12, 2009 at 2:44 am

    I agree with Lisa — I’d like ot see some acknowledgement/comment that one’s dog has some issues, yet guidance/ponts for dealing with those issues responsibliy.

    I don’t believe that Pepper and her sister Shyanne were abused — however, they appear to be BC/ES with some Shiba Inu thrown in and at the age of 5 months, I counted up that they had been in at least EIGHT different housing situations before they reached their “forever” homes — not for any negative reasons, but simply because they were part of a volunteer transport/rescue effort that just wasn’t as organized as it probably should have been.

    You guys would know better than me, but it does appear that the above breeds both need to bond AND don’t give their hearts easily. And through no one’s faullt, they didn’t get that opportunity and thus, they have issues (deep suspicion of strangers and possestion of territory).

    The goal, of course, is to go through training such that other people don’t notice that these are dogs with issues, but a responsible owner would be one that knows one’s dog has issues and is doing their best to manage/work through/improve on those issues. i really feel I got a better score on this quiz that I deserve — I think there needs to be something that both alerts and rewards those of us with rescue dogs with issues and reminds us that life with a dog is a journey, not a training end point.

    Otherwise, I think it’s a great quiz and I’ll ship it to my dog park group the minute it’s “complete.”

  • 15. Matt Mullenix  |  July 12, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    All assessments are problematic. But I like this one!

    (My Rina scored a 10, but honestly that has nothing to do with my good assessment of your good assessment.)

  • 16. Sarah  |  July 16, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    i would like a little more clarification on #1 – i never let my dog off leash, but that’s due to his very high prey drive and low recall rate when distracted. So i wasn’t sure which option to pick.

    Still my very dog reactive dog scored an 11 which makes me happy.

  • 17. Smartdogs  |  July 17, 2009 at 3:21 am

    Thanks for the comments people!

    I pulled this out of an orifice, late at night, after a couple glasses of wine. It was intended as a somewhat tongue-in-cheek poke in Ms. Follett’s eye.

    I appreciate the input but – I’m not going to change this. If any of you want to copy it, change it and use it yourselves – feel free.

    FWIW in a few weeks I’ll be taking in a few undersocialized, semi-feral fosters. At that time, according to my own test, I will instantly become a problem (if not dangerous) dog owner. I’m OK with that ’cause here’s the thing – as soon as those dogs come to stay at my house I will be.

    They’ll bark more than I want. They won’t be safe for strangers to approach. They may have parasites. And they’ll require huge amounts of management.

    The goal is to use training to change that while they’re here. Then I can send them on to new homes where they will be just annoying (at least for a while) and my pack and I can go back to being excellent.

    As a trainer I see far too many situations where a person with lots of good intentions – but not much in the way of skill or experience – takes in a dog with lots of issues and doesn’t make progress with it. While the owner may get warm fuzzies from having “rescued” the dog – IMO the dog suffers because it doesn’t get the help it really deserves.

    I think that the goal for every dog owner should be to make the most of each dog they own. If you’re not achieving skills like a reliable off leash recall in a year’s time (two at the most) – it’s time to get help or find a new trainer. The focus of your training program shouldn’t be the way the method makes you feel – it should be the freedom it allows your dog to enjoy.

  • 18. Kim  |  July 17, 2009 at 5:02 am

    Smartdogs said:

    “The focus of your training program shouldn’t be the way the method makes you feel – it should be the freedom it allows your dog to enjoy.”

    What a brilliantly simple, honest way to put this.

    ’nuff said.

  • 19. Donald McCaig  |  July 18, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Lovely questionaire. Lost 10 points on grooming (which I’ve never done nor wish to) and 5 points on misbehavior. My dogs’ default is mannerliness. Why should I praise them for doing what they know they ought to be doing? As Jack Knox says: “Allow the right, correct the wrong.”


  • 20. cyborgsuzy  |  July 18, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    Fred, while I applaud your compassion, even in an ideal world who’s going to foot the bill for housing all these dangerous owners? Having lived with or next to many d.o.’s, I think you underestimate the large number that are out there. We don’t have good statistics, of course, but in the end, humane euthanasia may be the only course.

  • 21. Oletko vaarallinen koiranomistaja? | Oudon rannan hiekka  |  February 18, 2012 at 11:34 am

    […] suomentamani DO-TAG -testin (Dog Owner Threat Assessment Guide), jonka alkuperäinen lähde on Smartdogs-blogi. Testi on amerikkalainen, mutta yhdeksättä kysymystä lukuun ottamatta varsin kuranttia […]

  • […] suomentamani DO-TAG -testin (Dog Owner Threat Assessment Guide), jonka alkuperäinen lähde on Smartdogs-blogi. Testi on amerikkalainen, mutta yhdeksättä kysymystä lukuun ottamatta varsin kuranttia […]

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