Thursday, July 5, 2007

How to pick out a puppy--Puppy Aptitute Testing

How do you pick out your new puppy? Do you choose the one with the biggest head and body? Do you pick the “boss” in the litter? How about the one who hangs back and hides? Most people haven’t got the foggiest idea of how to pick out a puppy for their family. Temperament testing a litter of puppies helps to insure that the puppy you pick will meet your needs, match your personality, and helps to ensure that a life-long bond and friendship will develop. Most individuals will spend more time picking out a second-hand car that they will trade in in 2 years than in picking out their dog.

Whether you want a couch potato, or a Best in Show winner, a good temperament test is the place to start to help you to figure out which is which. Over the last 20-30 years, many different temperament tests have been developed and used. Any temperament test will help you in one way or another.

In the 1970’s, I used the “Super Puppy Test”: this test had been utilized to determine which puppies would make the best seeing eye, hearing-ear, and drug detection dogs. I tested all my puppies, kept records and followed up at 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years of age to evaluate my results. After questioning my buyers on their needs and wants in a dog, I based the placement of my puppies on their test results. I never misplaced a puppy, nor did I have to replace any puppies. My buyers all raved how “perfect” their puppies fit into their family.

Today, I use Volhard’s Puppy Aptitude test. I have found it easy to use, interpret, and to explain results to others. It is an excellent test to help you place puppies with suitable owners and in the right family environment. It can be utilized in a breeding program to assist the breeder in determining which puppies to keep for future breeding by determining characteristic traits. A breeder who needs to correct certain behaviors (i.e. excessive shyness, aggression, sound sensitivity,) can test for these traits and choose puppies to eliminate or lessen negative behaviors. Likewise, if you want a dog for obedience or agility competition, these same tests can assist you in choosing the right puppy for you. Let’s examine puppy aptitude testing (PAT) and the how’s and whys. Please refer to the link here on My website.


Wendy Volhard developed a system for testing puppies in which one could indicate the dog’s basic temperament and indicate the dog with the most obedience potential. This resulted in the development of the Puppy Aptitude Test (PAT) since it indicates which pup has the most aptitude for the desire task or purpose. When administered in a standard form, testing results at 7 weeks of age follow true into adulthood. This test can be examined and broken down into test sections. The temperament sections will exam socialization, forgiveness, dominance & passiveness, independence, and active & passive defenses. The obedience section will exam trainability, touch, sound, and sight sensitivity.


This trait is an inherited tendency, which in the excitable dog makes it extremely responsive to external stimuli. Some also refer to excitability/inhibit ability as prey drive. Prey drive is important because it functions as the “stress relief” in a dog. The more you teach a dog, the higher its’ stress. Prey drive is the relief valve—it releases the pressure.

For temperament testing, we break prey drive into three sub-divisions: Ball drive, rag drive, and retrieve drive. Testing these subdivisions in a puppy can tell us where we may expect to see training problems later. For example, a pup with little or no prey drive will make a good couch potato but will be only able to handle the stress of mild household obedience. This is the conformation dog that walks into the ring with its head down, tail tucked, and stressed to the max. To expect more of this dog would be unfair to him and frustrating to you. However, if you need an agility dog or a high-level competition dog, a high prey drive would help this dog adjust and deal with specialized training.

The inhibited dog shows more self-control. This dog is more easily trained to react only upon certain cues. Obedience dogs are a good example.

The balance between excitability and inhibit ability is a poised, assure dog; a dog who rolls with the flow and adapts to his surroundings well. The extreme of excitability would be a wild uncontrollable dog. The extreme of inhibitiability would be the withdrawn, rigid and lethargic dog.


This trait is the inherited tendency to react to stress by biting, freezing or running away, and is also called a defense drive. A dog with a strong defense drive will make an excellent watchdog. The dog with a passive defense reflex will be induced to bite only under extreme duress. A dog with little or no defense drive will show a burglar where the family silver is , supervise while he bags it up, and escort him to the door as to say, ”Have a nice day!”.

A more passive dog should be selected for a family with small children, while a single adult may want a dog with more active defense reflexes for personal protection. A more active defense reflex when combined with a tendency toward inhabitability will allow an owner to train the dog to be defensive only in specific situations. Most Mastiffs exhibit this trait.


The dominant dog is the one who would have grown up to be the pack leader if it and the other puppies had been left to grow up on their own in the wild. He will show dominant behavioral tendencies by biting, growling, mounting, direct eye contact, walking with head up, tail up, hackles up, etc. The dominant dog will have first pick of the food, places to sleep, etc. Dominance has been selected for in many terrier breeds.

A dominant dog may challenge his human master and need a constant firm, calm handling. Lack of leadership on the owner’s part with such a dog will result in the dog assuming leadership. This may result in response such as nervousness, over-protectiveness, refusal to obey, and interfering with owner’s interactions with other people. A non-obedient adult dog can present many problem for it’s’ owner.

Submissiveness is evident in the dog that accepts leadership. It is often expressed in behaviors such as nudging with the nose, pawing, tail down, ears down, crouching and rolling over on the back, lack of fighting, lack of eye contact, and submitting to command. This is a dog that can be easily influenced by his owner/leader.

The submissive dog generally responds to training and readily accepts a human leader. The extremely submissive dog will react to the slightest stress by crouching or tail tucking and may be difficult to train. It will take a lot of encouragement and very gentle handling to build confidence and help it to adapt to the stresses of living in the average household. This dog will need to have absolute confidence in its owners.


The independent dog is not interested in human beings. He may be a loner or have been poorly socialized. This dog may work or hunt well on his own. Livestock guarding dogs often exhibit this trait.

The socially attracted dogs exhibits interest in people, enjoys being petted, follows humans easily, and in general wants to be where its humans are. These dogs are often described as turning into “people” and they make excellent pets for this reason.


It is also necessary to test a pup’s level of forgiveness (pain tolerance). In choosing a puppy as a family pet and companion, checking a pup’s level of forgiveness is a most crucial aspect of temperament testing. A puppy with a low level of forgiveness makes a poor candidate for almost any lifestyle. Only the most knowledgeable of trainers can manage a dog with low forgiveness. That will be clear the first time your toddler bites Rover’s ear or steps on his tail.

Trainability can also be described as a desire to please. A puppy with a high desire to please is much easier to train than one who does not care if it pleases you. Our animal shelters are full of dogs that developed bad habits and their owners could not control or train them. The easier it is to train your pup, the fewer problems you will have in your home.


Sight and Sound sensitivity is tested in order to determine the stability of a pup’s nerves. If a dog is overly sensitive to sound and sight it will show excessive fear, crouching, urinating, or running away when confronted with a loud or sharp sound. This dog could overact to gunshots, shouted commands, children laughing and screaming as they play.

Touch sensitivity is the pup’s response to physical stimuli. The touch sensitive dog will be difficult to train with the standard training collar because the correction-snap sets off the dogs defense reflexes (biting, freezing, or running away). This is the dog that bites when he is startled by petting, or by a child stepping on its tail. The touch insensitivity dog shows little response to physical stimuli. A mighty yank on the training collar yields little response.


It is obvious that the combination of traits (drives) or tendencies with which a puppy is born will go into the formation of its temperament. Particular combinations will result in a dog more suited for some things than others. Just because a dog has active defense reflexes does not mean it will make a good guard dog. Most owners are not looking for extreme drives in their dog. They want a dog with balance drives that will work, play, protect and settle into family life.

For example, what is commonly called a “hard” dog is often a combination of dominance and touch insensitivity. If this dog also shows a strong tendency to lead (dominant), it will be difficult to train. When the owner attempts to assert himself through a corrective snap on the training collar, the dog doesn’t respond because it cannot feel the collar. The owner must then resort to more forceful methods of correction, or use a different stimulus.

Environment plays a tremendous part in developing a dog’s potential. Genetic factors are inherited, but the traits themselves can be modified by environmental factors. By training and early experience we can greatly influence these traits. Research has shown that influence on temperament occurs in puppies at age’s 3-12 weeks. Environment and experiences have the most lasting impression on a dog. Temperament traits are generally fixed after 17 weeks of age. Temperament testing gives us the advantage of knowing what we have and where we need to go with it.


Now that we have given you an idea of what we are testing for and why, let’s begin the temperament test. Although much of what we test can be used for older dogs, ideally the temperament test should be given at 7 weeks of age. At 6 weeks or earlier, the puppy’s neurological connections are not fully developed. If you test puppies between the ages of 8 to 10 weeks, special care must be taken not to frighten them since this is the time frame for the fear imprint stage. You will need to have handy a tennis ball, a stainless steel bowl and spoon, and a dish-towel size rage or scrap of fake fur.

Puppies are tested individually, away from the dam and littermates in an area free from distractions and new to them: a small enclosed yard, garage, porch, living room, or whatever. Puppies should be tested before a meal when they are awake and lively and not on a day when they have been wormed or given puppy shots.

The sequence of the tests should be the same for all puppies. The test is designed to alternate a slightly stressful test with a neutral or pleasant one. If one follows the chart format, this principle can be followed. For your connivance, we have attached a standardized form that can be copied and used which includes the test, its’ purpose, and how to score the puppy’s response.

To help eliminate human error, or the puppies being influence by a familiar person, someone should administer the test other than the owner of the litter. A friend of the owner or a prospective buyer can easily learn to give the test. I find that having a fellow breeder assess conformation and temperament helps me to determine which of my puppies are “show quality” as well as “pet quality”.

When I am asked to temperament test a litter of puppies, I always asked to observe the parents, preferably both but at least the dam. If the sire and/or the dam have undesirable characteristics, there is a good chance some, if not all of the puppies will have inherit these traits. It is my opinion that a dam with undesirable traits is more apt to pass those characteristics to her pups by heredity and by example (modeling).

If you are considering purchasing a puppy, always observe the parents. The safest and easiest thing to do when faced with undesirable temperament in the parents, is to look for another litter of puppies whose sire and dam more closely conform to you needs and ideals. If you must have a pup from this litter, pay close attention to the test scores of the litter and do not select a pup, which shows any tendency toward undesirable traits.


Mostly 1’s-a puppy that consistently scores 1 in the temperament section of the test is an extremely dominant, aggressive puppy who can be easily provoked to bite. His dominant nature will attempt to resist human leadership; thus requiring only the most experienced of handlers. This puppy is a poor choice for most individuals and will do best in a working situation as a guard dog or police dog.

Mostly 2’s- This pup is dominant and self-assured. He can be provoked to bite; however, he readily accepts human leadership that is firm, consistent, and knowledgeable. This is not a dog for as tentative, indecisive individual. In the right hands, he has the potential to become a fine working dog or show dog and could fit into an adult household, provided the owners know what they are doing.

Mostly 3’s-This pup is outgoing and friendly and will adjust well in situations in which he receives regular training and exercise. He has a flexible temperament that adapts well to different types of environment, provided he is handles correctly. May be too much dog for a family with small children or an elderly sedentary couple.

Mostly 4’s- A pup that scores a majority of 4’s is an easily controlled, adaptable puppy whose submissive nature will make him continually look to his master for leadership. This pup is easy to train, reliable with kids, and, though he lacks self-confidence, makes a high –quality family pet. He is usually less outgoing than a pup scoring in the 3’s, but his demeanor is gentle and affectionate.

Mostly 5’s- This pup is extremely submissive and lacking in self-confidence. He bonds closely with his owner and requires regular companionship and encouragement too bring him out of himself. If handled incorrectly, this pup will grow up very shy and fearful. For this reason, he will do best in a predictable, structured lifestyle with owners who are patient and not overly demanding, such as an elderly couple.

Mostly 6’s-A puppy that scores 6 consistently is independent and uninterested in people. He will mature into a dog who is not demonstrably affectionate and who has a low need for human companionship. In general, it is rare to see properly socialized pups test this way: however there are several breeds that have been bred for specific tasks (such as basenjis, hounds, and some northern breeds) which can exhibit this level of independence. To perform as intended, these dogs require a singularity of purpose that is not compromised by strong attachments to their owner.

The remainder of the test is an evaluation of obedience aptitude and working ability and provides a general picture of a pup’s intelligence, spirit and willingness to work with a human being. For most owners, a good companion dog will score in the 3 to 4 range in this section of the test. Puppies scoring a combination of 1’s and 2’s require experienced handlers who will be able to draw the best aspects of their potential from them.
Below are record testing forms for the PAT.