Finding the Right Dog for Your Family

If you're considering adding a shelter dog to your family, you may be worried about how the dog's personality will match your family's lifestyle and preferences. Although you can do breed research to help you find a close match, a new program from the ASPCA called Meet Your Match purports to help you find exactly the right dog for you.

The program has its roots in the doctoral thesis researched and written by Emily Weiss, the ASPCA’s vice president of shelter research and development. According to Nora Zelevansky, writing on, the program has been used at the Richmond (VA) SPCA, where they’ve seen a drop in animals returned, and a 20% rise in adoptions. The program is used in at least 150 SPCA shelters in the United States, and has also been made available to shelters worldwide.

How does Meet Your Match work?

Every dog who is brought into the program is analyzed by shelter personnel and assigned a color that indicates not only the dog’s personality, but also his persistence level and motivation. The evaluation starts with a SAFER (Safety Assessment for Evaluating Rehoming) behavior screening, followed by an evaluation of friendliness, playfulness, energy level, motivation, and drive. At the end of the 15-minute evaluation, each dog is assigned to one of the nine “canine-alities”, three each for each of the colors (orange, purple, and green).

When people come into the shelter looking to adopt, they are given a 19-item questionnaire, the results of which are used to assign a particular color to the family.

Green means the family and the dog are interested in keeping the dog physically and mentally engaged. Orange dogs are those who are pretty flexible – enjoying regular activity and interaction, but not needing the person to make an investment in their entertainment. Finally, purple dogs are perfect for families who share their laidback, easygoing lifestyle.

Families are then encouraged (but not forced) to meet dogs who have been assigned the same color. This type of matching is said to be much more reliable than simply picking a dog based on breed characteristics. Because many shelter dogs are of mixed breeds, it can be tough to ascertain how much of the typical characteristics of each breed are present in any particular dog.

Green Dog
Green dogs are the most active. If you're looking for the life of the party, choose a green dog.

The Green Canine-alities

Within each color group, there are three distinctive personalities. For the green group, these are

  • Life of the Party
  • Go Getter
  • Free Spirit

As you might have gathered, the Life of the Party dog wants nothing more than to be with you, no matter what you are doing. These are the dogs that not only want to come in the car with you, they also want to come in the bathroom with you, and in the bed, and anywhere else you might like a little privacy or downtime. These socially motivated dogs think anytime is playtime, so be prepared to stay constantly on your toes to prevent the fun from getting out of hand.

The Go Getter is externally motivated. Full of energy, he wants to go, GO, GO! Quiet time is not in this dog’s vocabulary, so if you’re looking for a jogging companion or a dog to compete in agility or Frisbee golf, this is the dog for you.

The Free Spirit is independent enough to make his own fun, although he’ll be happy to let you come along for the ride. He is internally motivated and wants to be your partner, not your subordinate.

Green Dog
Orange dogs are middle-of-the-road, neither too demanding nor too disinterested.

Orange Canine-alities

The first orange dog is the internally motivated Wallflower. Shy, but looking for someone to draw him out of his shell, he requires warmth and kindness to truly blossom.

Next up for the orange dogs is the Busy Bee, who is playful, curious, and trusting. This externally motivated dog will walk with you all day and sleep with you all night.

Finally, the orange dogs boast the Goofball. This happy-go-lucky pooch loves to play and is looking for someone with a great sense of humor whose social motivation means he just wants to spend time learning to please you.

Purple Canine-alities

The Couch Potato is the first dog in this group. This internally motivated dog will curl up on your lap and might venture out on the long walk from his bed to his food dish. Also known as a doorstop.

Green Dog
Purple dogs are mellow and easygoing.

The socially motivated Constant Companion will follow you from room to room, inside, outside, and in the car. Just let this lover stay by your side and he’ll provide you with a low maintenance companion.

And last but not least, we have the Teacher’s Pet. This dog is a good learner, easy to train, and just looking for someone who will spend the time to keep him entertained learning new tricks. His external motivation means he will do anything for a reward.

(OK, does anyone else feel like they’ve just read the intros from The Dating Game? Because that’s what it felt like to write!)

What about puppies?

Puppies younger than 6 months old are assigned to the same color groups, but the evaluations are done a bit differently. Puppies are assessed to find out how comfortable they are in new environments, how they respond to social cues, how interested they are in playing, how easy they are to handle, and how protective they are of their food dishes.

The colors mean the same – green for more active, orange for middle-of-the-road, and purple for easygoing – but the sub-categories are a little different. Green puppies may be categorized as King of the Hill, Super Hero, or Thrill Seeker. Orange puppies may be Bashful Tourists, Class Clowns, or Rookies. And purple puppies might be given the moniker of Day Dreamer, Kindergartner, or Detective.

Learn more about the Meet Your Match program on the ASPCA’s website. You might even want to print out this article and take it to your local shelter. Tell them they might want to try this method to increase their successful adoption rate.

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