Searching For the Perfect Puppy? Do Temperament Tests Work?
First of all, there is no such thing as the perfect puppy! I hate to burst your bubble, but they just don’t exist. Rin Tin Tin and Lassie don’t exist especially not in puppy form! I bet both dogs (or dog actors) were naughty little puppies!
Dogs and puppies (especially puppies) live to please themselves and need to be taught to care about humans and the things that we humans care about.
And, ALL puppies are naughty so if you aren’t ready for some accidents, some of your most precious things chewed up, some screaming, some scratches and some nipping then I would tell you to consider an adult dog!
For more information on that and what breeds I like best with kids and families read my article “Which Are The Best Dogs for Kids; and Which Breeds Aren’t”.
First Things First!
Assess your lifestyle!
Getting a dog to “make” you exercise is like getting a size 2 wedding dress if you are a size 14… it just doesn’t make any sense. Chances are a dog is not enough to force you to do something and if you feel forced you will resent the new pup or dog and not bond appropriately.
Although all puppies need exercise (for help with exercising your puppy click here) not all puppies need AS MUCH exercise as another.
For example anytime you see a breeder or a posting for a dog saying he/she comes from WORKING lines, it means that puppy is going to have an unbearable amount of exercise! I guarantee it!!! It doesn’t matter if it is herding, hunting, Service Dog work, police dogs or whatever type of work they are referring to… “Working” dogs or puppies means EXCESS energy.
Think about it Sloths Don’t Work!!
If you want a sloth puppy avoid dogs that have been specifically bred to do a job of some sort. Instead stick to breeds of dogs that are known for being sloth-like in real life. Bassett hounds are one of my favorite “sloth breeds”!
The important thing is finding a dog that fits your personality NOW not the person you would like to be someday!
If you are active, find a dog breed that loves hiking and biking and running so you can have company!
Never, Ever, EVER
Chose a puppy or a breed based on looks or outward appearance; this has NOTHING to do with a dog’s trainability or temperament.
When I got my first Malinois I hated the look of the breed, they were too small and their heads and faces were too sharp for my desire. I liked big headed dogs like Rottweilers, but I liked the workability and temperament of the Malinois for what I was looking to do (they don’t usually make good pets btw). I put aside my dislike of their appearance and chose the breed for how well it would fit my personality and 15 years later I am still an addict!
Beware of the breed or the pup or the dog that you get for “protection” this is not a good sole reason for getting a dog. They say that a barking Chihuahua will keep a predator at bay more or at least as well as a large barking dog. Predators avoid any kind of barking or the presence of a dog.
But “protection” or “aggressive” or “territorial” pups or dogs are hard to live with; these are often the breeds or pups/dogs that bite, are extremely dominant and self-absorbed and hard to train and can easily become aggressive both toward people or other animals. I suggest avoiding these breeds unless you want to spend some time competing in these kinds of sports (which is not for a sloth-like or even just an averagely active person you need to devote HOURS each day to training just to live with one)!
So You’ve Decided What Kind of Dog You Want
Maybe you are at a breeder’s house, or someone who happens to have a litter, or you have decided to save the life of a shelter puppy! It doesn’t matter where you are, you want to find a puppy that will fit with you and your family still.
First, they have to pass the lifestyle test and then they need to pass the health test (do your research and see what ailments the dogs that you are considering suffer from) if you don’t have the money to deal with some of the major health problems of certain breeds (back problems and surgery for Dachshunds, heart, eye and breathing problems in English Bulldogs; don’t get one!) It is heartbreaking when you fall in love with a dog but you can’t afford medication or a $3000 surgery to save their lives and absolutely devastating to children! For more on expenses and making sure your dog is covered in an emergency click on this article.
Puppy Testing; Does it work?
Many people are passionate for puppy temperament tests and many people think there is no way to tell what a puppy will be as an adult.
There have been many studies done over the years. Some studies say they work, others prove that they don’t. Some organizations like Guide or Service Dog providers swear by their puppy test and other would admit that the temperament of a puppy cannot be determined by early temperament tests.
Breeders either swear by them or will tell you that puppies are dynamic and constantly changing; but most breeders have some experience predicting what a puppy will turn out to be, especially if they are working puppies and are already showing promise!
I Guess I am Somewhere In-Between
I know that by testing puppies for certain behaviors and certain things I can weed out the ones for a propensity for things that I want or don’t want… however puppy temperament tests are not nearly as reliable as testing an adult dogs temperament or behaviors.
Predicting puppies development and evolution is much more difficult and is a bit of a crap shoot.
I have always wanted social dogs that love people, but over the years I have ended up with 3 puppies that turned into dogs that are very aloof and don’t like people however to be fair I am dealing with breeds that are known for their aloofness and protective qualities so that I can compete in the protection dog world. But, if it can happen to me, it can certainly happen to you!
Puppy personalities change as they grow and develop socialization is critical and so is kind, fair, and consistent training and the shaping of their behaviors.
I believe more in nature than I do nurture but that is not to say the nurture is not a HUGE factor!
And I would NEVER bring a child to a temperament test (at least not my own) they would want ALL the puppies even if you don’t see a single one you are interested in (this is okay!).
So How Do You Put the Odds in Your Favor?
Simple tests will help you to assess which one will fit in your family best.
I never prefer the most dominant or pushy puppy, nor do I go for the puppy that is reserved or insecure.
People often think that picking the puppy that comes to you first and chews on your pant leg or jumps on your lap is the puppy to take, however I want to assess how that puppy interacts with the other puppies. If he is a bully and bites or plays too rough with the other pups in the litter I tend to steer clear.
This bullying behavior often bleeds over into his life with you and he is likely to want to push you around more with his teeth than some of the more mellow puppies.
I also never feel sorry for the runt or the fearful pup… okay well I feel sorry for it but not enough to take it. I want a social and easy to train dog just like everyone else and a puppy that is already showing signs of fear is more work than I am willing to take on. You may be able to train it and work out this problem, but you may end up with a dog that is socially inept and scared of noises and his environment for the rest of his life. Don’t make more work for yourself than you already are going to have with a puppy. Pick a social puppy neither the fearful one nor the one that dominates the bunch.
Other Tricks From a Professional?
Take the puppies one at a time to an unfamiliar safe place to see how they react to new and different environments. Take a pen and rate the puppies on how outgoing they are in this new place. Make sure you do the test and I often don’t let the breeder come along… (otherwise the pups focus on them) they are more than able to hide and watch!
Now clap and call the puppies. Rate the puppies on how fast and energetically they come or if they ignore you and would rather sniff their new place. I personally want a confident puppy that wants to come to me and hang out with people this might be a good predictor of his desire to be with and listen to people!
I also turn the pups over gently and hold them until they are slightly uncomfortable to see what they do in circumstances they can’t control. I pup that growls and tries to bite is not a good pup to bring home to a family and may come with a lifetime of control issues.
Also beware of the pup that is frozen with fear, just because the pup is laying still doesn’t mean he likes it you must read his behavior too!
A mild struggle is okay with me, I expect that but a terrified or aggressive puppy is not one I want to take home with me.
I also like bringing a toy to entice the puppy to play. I personally like a playful and high drive puppy so playing is a good thing for me, but I want to avoid the puppy that is possessive over his toys or completely insane if I am looking for a good pet. Also look for signs of fear or discomfort with something new.
I tarp, rocks, slick floor, stairs etc. is also a good test to see how pups deal with uncertain footing. I am looking for a confident dog with almost no abandon for his body and a willingness to take on anything new!
I don’t pinch, pull or otherwise hurt puppies… I think that is unfair and may change the way they look at new humans for the rest of their lives.
I do however HUG them, a little too long, to see what they do. I puppy that growls and tries to bite is not one to take home to the family, nor is the one the screams and runs away and doesn’t want to forgive you or come back for more. Although this may seem weird and uncomfortable to the animal, it is not painful and he should realize that and recover quickly!
My #1 Test?
I test my puppies for possessiveness. Give the puppy a pig’s ear, or rawhide or something really good but that will take him a while to chew. Let him get engrossed in chewing and then slowly approach him apprehensively and quickly dart down with your fingers (be careful even puppies can give you a good bite) touch the item, then put some pressure on the side of his face but act like you are afraid of him.
If you walk up and just take it like you are assertive and own the world, it doesn’t give him a chance to respond nor a chance to realize you are showing signs of nervousness (which allows him time to think about threatening you).
Act like a 4 or 5 year old would, not how an assertive adult would act.
I dip my fingers down several times, I squeal like a child would if the puppy stole her Barbie, and I put some resistance on the pups muzzle.
The best response for a family dogs is a dog that drops the item and wiggles and wags over to you, allowing you to have something he desperately desires.
The worst response is a pup that growls, stiffens, or threatens to bite you.
A similarly negative response is the puppy that clamps onto the item and runs around the room trying to avoid you at all costs or becomes fearful.
If the pup doesn’t chew on the item long enough to be engrossed or doesn’t chew the item at all it is hard to determine what he might do. A bowl with a little canned dog food might work for puppies that are not willing to chew (again watch your fingers).
Most of the Time
I tell the breeder what I am looking for and let him or her help me pick. A breeder or human mom or dad knows these pups much better than you ever will in a temperament test that lasts only a few minutes; and he/she wants to make a good match.
So even though I may test the puppy anyway I still want the advice of the person that knows the puppies the best.
Do Temperament Tests Work?
Sometimes it works great, other times it doesn’t; however it does usually help you to narrow down your choices and gives you a better idea of what you are in for when training these pups!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.