The Most Important Things to Consider When Temperament Testing a Puppy
There are two very distinctive camps when it comes to puppy temperament testing.
The PRO side who are very adamant about the positive results of puppy temperament tests.
And, the ANTI side who don’t believe that puppy temperament tests are valid for assessing what the adult dog will be like when he is older.
I suppose that I am somewhere in between these two camps.
I have certainly temperament tested puppies that I have adopted and taken into training, hoping to get a glimpse into what the dog will be like one day.
And, I have had and seen puppy temperament tests that have proven absolutely no validity later in life.
It is also important to note, that it is much easier to choose a puppy and temperament test puppies from known or pure bred puppies; simply because it gives you more solid information.
That is not to say that mix breed puppies in the shelter cannot give you some information, it just means that the information is less.
A short story versus a novel, if you will.
If you want a dog with a known temperament or specific qualities; adopt or purchase an adult dog.
Adult dogs have developed their temperaments and behaviors.
Puppies, like children, are constantly developing who they want to be when they grow up and are ever changing. A confident puppy can develop into a nervous adult, or vice versa.
A social puppy can even develop into an anti-social adult, despite socialization.
But a social adult will mostly likely remain a social adult and an anti-social adult will likely remain anti-social or at least stand offish and aloof.
You just can’t change inherent temperament.
Having worked for many Service Dog organizations and started and run my own for years, I have seen hundreds of temperament tests on both adults and puppies.
You have to take into account what matters and the breed prior to any kind of temperament assessment.
Likewise you can’t expect a Miniature Poodle to herd sheep or a Golden Retriever to protect the home or be successful in police bite work.
So, first things first; figure out which breed or mixture is best for you and assess why you want that dog as an adult.
For instance if you have children of all ages and a very busy home full of people coming and going and you need a dog that is super friendly and accepting of all these happenings; you don’t want to consider a Malinois or a Fila Brasleiro.
If you want a quiet dog you won’t want to look too long or hard at Great Pyrenees or Shetland Sheep Dogs.
Don’t think that you will have the only Shetland Sheep Dog in an apartment situation that won’t bark when he hears the neighbors coming and going! Most individuals stick somewhere close to their breed standard for conformation and behavior.
Parents and genetics matter more (in my opinion) than anything else.
Assess the parents if you want a puppy to act and react in a certain way.
If two aggressive Golden Retrievers (which is fairly rare) have puppies; chances are very high that they are going to have some aggressive puppies.
Some would say this is pure genetics and others would say it is a combination of some genetics and learned behavior from the mother and I suppose it can be both.
This is also another reason it is so important to get puppies from a well socialized, non-fearful mother so that the puppies aren’t imprinted with fearful behaviors from the start.
I am a big believe in nature over nurture.
Nurture is important, but nature is a genetic component that is nearly impossible to change.
This has been proven with years of successful breeding programs with Guide Dogs, Service Dogs and Police Dogs.
The behaviors, qualities and temperaments of certain dogs are bred to like dogs to develop stronger puppies with all of the good qualities.
It isn’t easy, and it doesn’t always work without flaw, but it is more successful than breeding dogs willy-nilly.
How to Pick a Puppy
So, you are hell bent on a puppy!
You don’t want to go with the known temperament and behavior of an adult. You desire to start with a puppy.
Again, research your breed of choice and make sure you and your family are up for the tasks and challenges that the breed possesses. Spending time fostering adult dogs or even puppies for a breed rescue is a great place to start.
But, there are some general rules I have learned over the years.
Don’t Pick the Most Dominant Puppy
Everyone tells you to pick the most dominant and outgoing puppy in the litter.
“Choose the puppy that struts through and parts the members of the litter with his attitude.”
Chances are this is going to be a difficult puppy, even if you have chosen an easy breed.
The dominant puppy is used to getting his way and using his teeth and behavior to get what he wants.
Most people, especially with children, don’t want to have to try and knock this puppy attitude down a few pegs and teach the puppy he can’t get everything he wants in life by throwing his teeth and his weight around.
Leave this puppy for a very, very experienced owner.
Don’t Pick the Scared Puppy
On the opposite end of the spectrum are people who are drawn to the smallest, runt of the litter.
The puppy that is cowering in the corner afraid of visitors and looks like he needs a hug.
Training this puppy will also be a project.
Chances are he will need immense and patient socialization and he may still have some fear issues as he ages.
Although your heart may break for this puppy, do you really want to invest 10-20 years living with a fearful dog?
Find a Confident Puppy
I look for confidence.
I don’t want the dominant bully.
I want the puppy that is happily socializing with his litter but also is interested in my arrival.
A puppy that is hiding may not be interested in human affection.
A puppy that is busy dominating his littermates and playing by himself may look confident, but I also want a dog that is social and wants to spend time with me and other humans.
That human/social connection is the most important thing to me when selecting a puppy.
You’ve Heard It Before
You have heard it before, “Pick the puppy that picks you”.
This is good advice because the puppy that picks a human is usually a social puppy and social skills are important tools for life with people.
Not all dogs want to be with people. Some dogs are fiercely independent. Other dogs choose the company of other dogs in the family or other animals.
I, personally, want a dog that wants to be with ME, not my other dogs, not my cats; but ME!
More on Confidence
Separate the puppy you are interested in from his/her litter.
Take him to another room or take him to a place that he has never been before.
How does he act?
Does he panic?
Is he confident and without a care in the world?
I want a confident dog that remains social with me.
I don’t want a dog that panics or howls or completely shuts down when he is on his own with me.
Test Him Further
I also like to get an idea of how he will deal with stress, not crazy stress, but things he may not know.
I like to shake bottles or make noises and see how the puppy reacts.
Startling at the sound of a noise is okay, but is he capable of then investigating the noise?
Or does the puppy shut down completely when he hears something unfamiliar.
I also like testing my new puppy’s footing by getting him to walk across slick floors, up and down stairs, and across a noisy and strange tarp.
Again, I want a dog that will take everything in stride.
I don’t want a dog that is going to run for the hills if a tarp blows in front of him on a walk in the neighborhood.
I want a dog that isn’t bothered by anything in his environment and if he is taken aback is quick to recover.
In my opinion, sociability and confidence (of course health) are the most important thing to me when I am looking for a puppy.
Everyone is different, but know what you want in a puppy and what scenarios your life will be full of and try to test for that.
When I was training Service Dogs for people with disabilities; I took adult dogs from shelters because the temperament that I saw and tested was the same.
Puppies go through a kind of puberty just like kids and their personalities and temperaments can do some changing, especially if you are unsure of their background and breed.
And, it is also important to note that some breeders do a great job of socializing their puppies to crazy environmental stressors and things.
I know many breeders who set up obstacle courses full of tarps, ball pits, shake cans, unsure footing and just about anything you can imagine. THESE are the breeders that I seek out if I am looking for a pure bred puppy. I like a puppy that already has a leg up in life.
The truth is you can find just about anything you are looking for if you do the research.
Find the best breeders if you are resolute about a pure breed dog.
Or do the best you can if you are working with a shelter puppy.
Always test their confidence and sociability!
Everything else is in your hands to carefully socialize them to as they age!