ETHOLOGY OF THE INDIVIDUAL
What is CARAT?
CARAT is an assessment tool that creates a detailed profile of the individual dog as a unique combination of many traits working together to influence, exacerbate, mitigate and enhance each other.
CARAT is not a test. There is no PASS or FAIL. CARAT is a scoring system, based on observable behaviors and patterns of response.
The goal is the creation of a profile for an individual animal. That profile may then be used to provide a deeper understanding of the individual and to evaluate suitability for a task, lifestyle or handler.
CARAT accurately describes temperament in a clear behavior profile for that individual dog. Those trained in CARAT will be able to consistently produce profiles that are reliable and reflect a high degree of agreement with others also trained in CARAT.
Additionally, CARAT profiles are predictive. Anyone trained in CARAT will be able to predict from a CARAT profile what a dog’s possible responses might be for a given scenario. CARAT profiles thus provide a way of understanding and sorting dogs efficiently and with clear, consistent organization of information about the dog.
Who should use CARAT?
CARAT offers a comprehensive approach to assessing and understanding behavior. It is a tool that is valuable for:
- Trainers & instructors
- Shelter/rescue/ACO personnel
- Veterinarians & vet techs
- Competitors & handlers
Because it is based on observable behaviors, CARAT is applicable in any context, whether watching a dog walk down the street or participate in a class, or under specific evaluation protocols. Multiple assessments in various contexts may be needed for a complete and accurate CARAT profile.
CARAT focuses on temperament. Each animal has a typical way of reacting to the world. The preferred, first and most natural way of reacting is known as temperament. Temperament is a complex interaction of genetics, environmental influences and experiences during early development that all combine to create the individual. In dogs, this early development period occurs prior to 7 weeks.
CARAT vs. Other Assessments
Other temperament assessment systems lump together different traits into broad categories -“big buckets” – such as confidence/fear, dominance, distraction, aggression, excitability, anxious, attachment/separation anxiety, etc. These “big bucket” assessments are relatively crude measurements. While they are useful in generalized patterns and statistics for populations or trends, they are not good at providing nuanced or detailed information about an individual animal.
CARAT takes a more detailed view with a deliberate focus on the individual animal. The focus is on adaptive behavior, which is the typical performance of individuals without disabilities in meeting environmental expectations.
The scoring of observed behaviors creates profiles that demonstrate how one individual dog may be different from another dog.
Other scoring systems describe overall behavior and oversimplify canine behavior. CARAT identifies the traits/elements that are contributing to the overall behavior. CARAT does not lump together many different traits. Instead, CARAT differentiates at a fine level.
For example, CARAT can delineate the differences between a dog who is stressed and demonstrating avoidance sniffing from a dog who is confident but visually distracted by birds. In another rating system, they may have the same distraction score.
CARAT reflects the behavioral reality that a response to any given stimulus can either inhibit or activate the animal, attract the animal or create avoidant behavior, and that the distinction between the two is critical in understanding the individual.
CARAT identifies individual components of overall behavior patterns. This prevents the common problem of two dogs receiving the same score when the details of their behavior are quite different.
For instance, in one rating system commonly used, dogs may be rated as highly distractible. Highly distractible dogs can be vastly different. For one dog, the “distraction” might have been olfactory, while another dog might have been “distracted” by visual stimuli.
When the same score is given, it tells us nothing about the type of distraction that provoked the dog’s response, how persistent the dog is in pursuing the distraction, the arousal level and resilience of the dog when in the presence of the distraction, the dog’s level of awareness of the stimuli, and many other factors. CARAT does take all that – and more – into account, and reflects it in the profile.
Unlike other scoring systems that set a defined “desirable” score, CARAT is focused on profiling the individual in terms of functional, adaptive behavior. The mid-range score of 0 is behavior that is considered highly functional and adaptive across a broad range of contexts. The further any one given score moves toward the extremes of the range, the less adaptive that behavior is except in more narrowly defined contexts or niches.
CARAT says, “This is who this individual dog is.” What constitutes a desirable profile is dependent upon how closely the individual’s profile fits the intended purpose, use or goal for the dog.
CARAT helps to delineate what makes one individual dog suitable for a task while another dog is not. For example:
A competitive tracking dog ideally has a productive, heightened olfactory awareness with a higher level of olfactory persistence.
A successful guide dog is visually aware, and does not have any notable olfactory persistence.
There are great differences in the CARAT profiles for a successful French ring sport dog and a suitable companion for an elderly person with mobility issues.
What Are The Benefits?
In applying CARAT, we have the goal of being able to define what role might be most suitable for this dog, what lifestyle might be most comfortable for this individual, what type of person might be most compatible with this dog, and what situations or handlers or demands might be unfair, distressing or unproductive for this individual.
CARAT seeks to create better assessments of dogs as individuals. For trainers, behaviorists and instructors, this detailed understanding is the key to appropriate handling and to creating effective, humane training plans based on that individual dog’s patterns of response.
For animal shelter and rescue personnel as well as trainers and others, CARAT profiles can aid in the selection of dogs for a specific purpose, handler or environment.