temperament testing

Dogs, inside/out

Looks inside, that’s where the important stuff is.

Looks inside, that’s where the important stuff is.

Dog - a domesticated canid, Canis familiaris, bred in many varieties.

Okay, so a dog is a dog is a dog, right? Wrong; each dog is very individual. This fact is very obvious, no more so than when I perform a temperament test. As most of you know, temperament testing is a service that I offer. This is when I get to see who is who in a litter; and it has nothing to do with the way they look. Not surprisingly though, is that most people choose their dog by the color or exterior image; caring little to what’s inside that little bundle of joy.

I am a huge believer of matching dog to their most appropriate family. That does not just mean color, breed or mix of breeds. I believe that when looking for a puppy you should ask yourself a lot of questions before bringing one home.

  • What is your life like?

  • What does your day to day look like?

  • Do you want to have a huge horse like dog in your house or would you prefer a tiny little guy running around?

  • Do you want a high energy dog who wants to run marathons?

  • Or would you prefer that they simply lay on the couch all day?

  • Are you interested in training a lot or would you rather not?

  • Are there small children in your life?

This is a very small list, I could go on and on with more questions. And these are all before even considering an individual puppy. First you need to figure out what you want to live with and the only thing with regards to living and canine exterior is fur.

  • Do you care if there are tumble weeds rolling around your house?

  • What about little needle hairs that weave their way into everything?

  • Or would you prefer no hair around?

These three questions are the only things that matter as far as exterior. Of course if you live in frigid or very hot temperatures; that should factor in somewhat, although it doesn’t seem to for most folks.

It is a very human trait that we want what we find beautiful. But choosing a dog for it’s exterior can go very wrong and sadly it often does. “I want the one with the patch over his left eye, he’s so cute.” What if that puppy is a fearful, lazy little guy and you plan on a very social and active lifestyle with him? Life may end up a struggle for the both of you.

“I have to have the little white one, she’s adorable.” That white demur looking little girl could be a nightmare on four paws. She may have more energy than you know what to do with. She may be a one person dog and you have a family of seven who all want her to be their new best friend.

I have chosen to live with Standard Poodles. I love their intelligence level, the fact that they do not shed, their athletic ability and their ability to do just about anything. That said “do anything” is a blanket statement; not all are going to do the things that I want to do. My one and only stipulation as far as exterior color is no black; and that is simply because we live in Southern California and are so active outdoors, they get too hot. What I look for in a dog is all on the inside, the heart and soul of a dog.

Wouldn’t it be nice if humans could look inside of other humans and see who they were instead of focusing on the exterior? Same goes for dogs, it is what’s inside that is important. So often a dog goes unmatched with a perfect guardian because of exterior. “I want pure black, not the one with a white paw” I’ve heard; even after knowing that the white paw dog is what these folks are looking for.

Everyone has choices in life and that goes with choosing dogs as well. I ADORE DOGS!!!!! I think you all know that. But what I love is what’s inside. Of course I can and do appreciate beauty; but more than exterior beauty, I love a beautiful heart and soul. And that my friends is what is so great about dogs. No matter what a canine looks like, most are amazing and beautiful on the inside.

Your new best friend could be that one brown puppy in the sea of whites that you came to pick from. Look inside, you will find amazing beauty.

Temperament testing in dogs

A most perfect match made when Elsa joined our family.  Thank you Vicki.

A most perfect match made when Elsa joined our family.  Thank you Vicki.

I want to talk about temperament testing today, yes again.  This is something that I am very passionate about and wish that all breeders, rescues and shelters did.  Very few that I speak to think that temperament testing is important.  But why?  Well, from what I can glean from the conversations that I have, it seems that the idea of temperament testing is something you do when you don't "know" your puppies.  The common response I hear from the breeders who don't do it is this; "I don't need to temperament test, I know my puppies."  Leaving me to think that they feel that it is only something you do when you don't know your puppies.  Hmmmmm...

So what exactly does temperament testing do?  Well, let's first say that there is temperament testing and then there is temperament testing.  I have seen many dogs who have been "tested" that have been done completely inaccurately.  So that must be the first understanding.  When a temperament test is done it must be done by someone who is very experienced in dog behavior.  There are so many things to factor in aside from the initial result.  

What am I looking for when I test?   I look to find out who this puppy is as an individual.  What makes them tick; what they like, what they don't like.  How will they deal with life as it unfolds before them.   

What type of family scenario is going to best suit each individual puppy?  Temperament testing is not about finding the good and bad.  It has nothing to do with the best puppy; it is all about finding the best puppy for each family waiting to add one of the bundles of fur to their family.  Who would thrive in each very different individual family life?

  • Are they afraid of loud noise?
  • Are they independent?
  • Do they easily follow a human?
  • What is their recovery time after being startled?  A biggy for me..
  • Are they a soft or hard type dog?  
  • Will they do well with small children?
  • Are they forgiving?  
  • etc etc

There is no reason not to temperament test but a plethora of reason to test.  When a breeder does not test and opts to allow the families to pick their own puppy; every puppy/guardian pairing can be wrong.  It can start with the first choice to the last.  Most people have no idea what they are looking for; they go on a visual choice and who comes to them first.  Nothing can be gleaned from a onetime visit in among a litter of puppies.  

Each puppy must be looked at alone and offered many different experiences to show who they are as an individual.  Why not give each a chance for the best life that they can live.  Much more coming on temperament testing, stay tuned.  


Temperament testing and puppy placement

I was surfing breeder sites the other day; I was looking for something very specific for someone.  The information that I was looking for was how they raise their puppies.  So I rolled up my sleeves and dug in.  It doesn't take me long to figure it out; it's just a bit of looking around a site that gives you much more information than you would think.  The first thing I saw was pictures of week old puppies set up beside a basket full of flowers.  Red flag.  

A little more surfing around and I found the puppy contract.  Wow.  Let's just say it is not something that I would ever sign.  One of the big red flags was about placement of the puppies.  Puppy buyer must make their choice when the puppies are three weeks of age in order of deposit.  Boy this makes me cringe.  

At three weeks of age, there is no way to know who is who.  Oh sure you can go strictly by color and/or markings but that is all you can go on.  Even if you get to see them in person, you cannot tell what the puppies temperament or personality will be at that age.  Even the breeder can't tell what their puppies are like at two or three weeks of age.  

I've done a great deal of temperament testing in many different breeds and mixes and it is quite fascinating.  It is one of the things that I do that I absolutely love.  Seeing the differences in the puppies at seven weeks of age and talking to the breeder about their expectations and surprises after the test is intriguing.  So much personality and difference in such little puppies, I LOVE IT.  

Choosing puppies is not like choosing fruit from a basket; or at least it should not be.  I just talked to a person from a rescue group the other day for a client.  After discussing their protocol for puppy placement and matching owners to puppies; I have to say that I was highly impressed.  It was refreshing to talk to someone who "gets it."  

Just like the huge differences in humans; dogs are just as different.  There are folks who just pick a puppy and don't much care what the personality is like.  The dog may not really work in their home but they don't much notice.  I seen dogs that just coexisted within a home and I have worked with many people who juggle dogs from room to room because they don't "mesh."  

Each and every family situation is as different as people and dogs.  More attention needs to be taken when placing dogs into homes with existing dogs.  It is great when they get along great; not so much when they are a mismatch.  

So how should it be done?  In my opinion this is how puppies should be placed.

- Deposit or interest placed on a puppy from a litter by potential buyer.
- Constant communication between puppy buyer and breeder or rescue person.
- Once puppies are born, potential buyers are notified that there is or is not "a puppy" in the litter for them.
- Photos, videos and communication about each puppy keeps buyers in the loop.
- Breeder gets to know puppies very personally over the weeks; thinking about which puppy would best suit which home and family situation.
- Buyer does not know which puppy will be theirs yet, just that one will be joining their family.
- Litter is temperament tested at 7 weeks of age.
- Breeder decides who would best fit particular homes at that point.
- Sometimes there is a choice between two puppies that would fit; breeder assists buyer in final decision.

This is my opinion on how it should be.  The general public has no idea how to choose a puppy; whether they are temperament tested or not.  I really think that temperament testing is important; but it is also just as significant if not more so, that the breeder know each puppy as an individual.  This I have found is lacking remarkably in many breeders.  

I always say that dogs are very simple creatures; that is once you learn how they learn, perceive and communicate with the world around them.  But they are also extremely complicated; each being so different than next.  Choosing the next member of your family should not be a blind decision made by coat color or pattern.  Nor should it be made by someone who has no idea how to choose.

Choosing puppies - temperament testing

Elsa at 5 months of age playing with a Sheltie puppy.  She was a social butterfly. 

"I want the red one," says the woman as she chooses her puppy.  Arranged on a page side by side the puppies await their new owners decisions.  I HATE THIS.  As someone who not only loves dogs; I also put a great deal of importance on each as an individual. 

I cannot stand when I see puppies "set up" in the cutest of posed images to sell them.  Dogs are far more than a piece of material that you sell like jewelry or shoes.  Each is an individual and they deserve to be put into a home where they would best flourish.  They should not be chosen by their exterior image.  

"Do you temperament test?" is one of my first questions when talking to breeders.  I talk to a lot of breeders.  I'm interested in who is doing what with their puppies.  It is not only my own breed of breeders I talk to; I discuss socializing and temperament testing with all sorts of breed, breeders.  I love when I meet a breeder who is doing it all.  

What I am seeing more and more are breeders who temperament test but don't place accordingly.  What does that mean?  It means that they go through the motions but don't follow through.  Their puppies are given a temperament test but then people can choose whoever they like.  The temperament test is not just something to check off the list; it is implemented to help in correct placement.  

               The general public chooses puppies visually.

The general public, and that encompasses most people; do not know what they are looking for as far as a companion.  They look at a puppy and decide by a visual preference.  

Puppies are much more than a pretty face.  When I temperament test a litter, I am always amazed by the difference in each dog. 

How should it be done?  In my opinion, puppies should be placed in the best life situation for them.  Deposits can be taken or not for an upcoming litter.  Once they are born and the number of puppies is known; then a matching list of people can be created.  Everyone on the list gets a puppy but no one knows which puppy will be theirs until they are temperament tested.  

At 7 weeks of age the temperament test is given and the breeder should know all the little personal quirks about each puppy.  The temperament test is important.  But just as critical is the breeders knowledge of each puppy's personality traits.  Every puppy is very individual as far as personality and temperament.  They may look like they all came out of the same mold; but inside they are very different from one another.   

Then and only then should puppies be placed, by the breeder.  There may be a couple of puppies who would do well in a home and the would be owners can be given a choice between those; WITH THE BREEDERS ASSISTANCE.  It is at this point that show puppies can be chosen as well, not before.  

I remember being at a breeders home photographing puppies.  The puppies had all been chosen at 2 days old.  As I played with the 7 week puppies, one stood out.  The breeder said that an elderly woman had chose this puppy and she hoped that she could handle her.  She was a spitfire of a girl; a tiny thing but full of piss and vinegar.  I shrugged my shoulders and continued to shoot.  

If it really is not about the money (and I know it is about the money for many who say it's not) then why not wait?  If you have a buyer and they cannot take the puppy until it is as least 8 weeks of age; then why not wait to see who the puppies are before placing them?  If prospective puppies don't like it, too bad.  I'd rather have a list of people who want what's best for the puppy.  

As a breeder, you can do it all.  You just have to decide to do it all.  

Puppies and testing temperament

I love doing temperament test on puppies.  I also love hearing about temperament tests that  have been done and the differences in how they are done and the results.  Most tests are pretty much the same.  Tests are done in an area where the puppies have never been before; and with someone who they have never met previously.  It is amazing how quickly puppies acclimate so it must be a new place and person to get the best results.  

I have seen a lot of puppies in all of my years.  I have tested many and watched even more.  I am always watching, closely.  I think temperament testing is extremely important; but, even if a breeder, rescuer or foster does not want to temperament test, they should know their puppies.  Knowing an individual puppy helps to ensure that they will go to the best suited home for them and their new family.  I believe the best scenario is to know your puppies well and do temperament testing.  Knowing your puppies is going to mean something entirely different to each individual breeder or person who raises a litter.  The distinction will factor in with what the puppies have been subjected to.  Even then, each puppy raiser has their own level of assessing results.  

Day to day, small, boring and mundane activity needs to be watched as far as action/reaction readings.  There is much that can be learned from watching the reaction of puppies.  How do puppies act around new people, new surfaces, noises, dogs?  

When I test, I like to have a bit of background.  What have the puppies been up to before I came into the picture?  This will help me to understand their responses.  If a puppy has had a solid socialization background vs. been in a litter box their whole life, will factor largely in the test scores.  

Puppies need to be on their own to get a true reading.  Not just for temperament testing but simply knowing your puppies.  Puppies act very differently when they have their backup pose with them.  Pull them out on their own and everything changes; this is very important to understand.  

What am I personally watching for when I test a litter of puppies?   I am looking at sociability with dogs as well as humans and confidence.  

Does a puppy want to be with people?  This interaction is fairly easy to see; although I do see puppies being read incorrectly all the time.  A puppy must seek out human contact and respond accordingly with body language.  Puppies who have not had a great deal of human contact will display this when tested.  But not all dogs desire human contact even if they have been surrounded by humans. 

Some puppies may follow but aren't interested in an actual interaction.  Other puppies may get under foot while following and be a biting, humping fool when you get down on the ground with them.  There are so many different combination that can unfold when tested and watched extensively.  But the dropped ear, wiggly butt of a puppy who desires human contact is nice to see.   

As far as confidence, that is a much more difficult read; and one aspect that is misread often.  Personally I like to see apprehension to new things.  Depending on the startle factor of the new experience, you should allow for different levels of apprehension and see many degrees of alarm. Here is where the life experience will factor in.  Knowing if the puppies are socialized or not makes a big difference in reading. 

Recovery time is extremely important.  When a puppy startles at new sounds and sights, it is the moment after that needs to be watched carefully.  The degree of startle needs to be surveyed but the recovery time is even more important.  Breaking the recovery down even further, each step and time lapse should be taken into account.  But I want to see startle; this allows us to see that a puppy is aware of his/her surroundings.  The different levels of startle and recovery are vast. 

As far as the actual testing, there are many different tests within the test itself.  I believe strongly in reading between lines as well as get initial scores and recovery time scores.  There is so much more about each puppy then a number on a test can tell  

The whole nature vs. nurture thing that many breeders throw out there is moot to me.  Both factor extensively in the development of a puppy into adulthood.  I have seen litters who are very close as far as scores in a temperament test; but, they are all very much individuals in the personality department.  

I believe we owe it to our dog to see these individual traits and acknowledge them.  Yes there are aspects that can be changed once a puppy goes to live in a new home.  Much will be learned and unlearned.  There will be issues that are easy to change and some things that are very much there to stay.  Knowing each puppy as the individual that they are will give them the best chance to thrive in their life to come.  

  Canine temperament, personality and behavior is fascinating and diverse.  It is often given little notice, under valued and pushed aside in lieu of color, pattern or number in a waiting line.  

A litter of puppies is more than a box of puppies.  A litter holds within it, a plethora of temperament traits and personal idiosyncrasies.  Seeing the uniqueness of each takes time, knowledge and desire.  

Categorizing temperament traits

They are all different.  

Why is temperament testing so important?  Many people or breeders don't think that it is; they allow their new puppy buyers to pick, first come first choose.  But most people have no idea what they are looking for.  Sure, they have an idea of the perfect Lassie soon to be in their life; but sadly that doesn't often end up as planned.  What they want and how to choose it comes from experience and new puppy buyers don't tend to have that.  Choosing the wrong breed and/or the wrong dog within a litter happens a lot. 

Within a litter of puppies there are many different temperaments; there in-lies the problem.   Which puppy would best suit your family and lifestyle?  If you have one or more dogs already; then choosing a good match is more difficult.  You have personalities to match up.  That said you are the leader, the boss of the pack and you have to live with each one.  So choose wisely and if you can, go with a breeder who does temperament testing and knows their litter extensively.  Each puppy is very different from the other.  Even in a very "even" litter there are differences.  

I was looking at Elsa yesterday as she stood watching out the living room window.  She was watching for lizards; which has paid off for her several times this summer.  Luke use to do the same, as did Tilley but they were all very different.  Tilley was very high drive; crazy style, high drive.  This high drive created an issue with shadow chasing.  Once I realized this OCD issue I very quickly moved it to an outlet that I could control; and Tilley became an amazing Frisbee dog.   Tilley was a high energy dog that was very happy to lay on the couch as well.  A nice combination.  She had a very accessible "off" switch.  But even with her high energy and high drive she was not highly interested in playing.  She played a bit but she was much more interested in her chase activities.  If she was involved in a chase she would completely ignore anything around her.  

Comparing Elsa's drive to Tilley's, they are very different.  Elsa has extremely high drive but is much more controllable.  She has a high drive to chase but does not zone out.  Her energy level is probably higher than Tilley's was.  She can go all day without batting an eyelash; and if there is anything going on as far as action, she's in the mix.  She loves to play more than any dog that I have known and adores her friends.  So you see, even though Tilley and Elsa may have scored very similar in the drive section of a temperament test, they were and are very different. 

Luke had drive but not crazy drive.  He was an amazing retriever but did not want to participate in the activity all day long like the girls did and do.  He was reactive, meaning that every emotion he had was bigger than most in outward behavior.  Whatever Luke was feeling, you knew it.  Not much got past him; but nothing gets past Elsa.  She is hyper sensitive to anything and everything going on around her.  She is a need to know type of gal; much like I am.  :)

When I temperament test, I read between the lines as well as the score the actual tests.  This of course is where breeder knowledge of a litter comes in as well.  I often chat about my "between the lines" thoughts with the breeder and we discuss each puppy as an individual.  A puppy may be the most active in a litter; which to the average puppy buyer looks like fun.  But, that puppy may have a whole agenda of their own.  It may involve activity but not with you or other dogs.  They may have a tough time settling once they are wound, maybe not.  Just like the puppy sitting in the corner may not be the shy one that he looks like.  Many puppies who sit back and watch are highly intelligent, thinkers.  

This is why it is extremely important for breeders to interact with their puppies on many different levels.  Interact with and watch, watch them interact with other puppies, people, inanimate objects and on their own; how do they deal with the world around them when they don't have their posse?

Letting puppy buyers pick their own puppy is like putting a blindfold on and saying "okay, choose."    

Placing puppies in the right home.

                                                           No two are alike. 

I got to temperament test puppies again and out of all the things that I do with dogs, it has to be one of my favorite.  Of course, who wouldn't want to spend time with 7 week old puppies?  But it is not just their adorableness that I love about puppies; I am fascinated by how they react to each test.  You can take a whole litter of puppies that look very similar and each can be very different.  I have tested a lot of litters over the years and each and everyone has been different; just as different as each puppy is within the litter.

Many breeders don't see a reason to temperament test.  They feel like they know their puppies; but there is a big difference in how a puppy reacts to someone they see everyday versus how they react to a stranger.  Add to that, a strange environment and you get a very good read on a dog.  I am often asked if I've been able to see some of the puppies I've tested once they've grown up and yes I have.  Many are exactly as I read, some changed a bit; either for better or worse, depending on the life that they have had.  Ahhh, there in lies the big question; how much does their upbringing have to do with a dog? 

A dog's environment and daily interactions is huge as far as making a dog.  What we do when we temperament test is see where that puppy would best thrive.  Who would be the best match for this one individual puppy.  What one puppy can handle, another may not.  Do you want to place a high drive, super charged puppy with someone who just wants to cuddle on the couch?  No.  It's not a match.  Placing a puppy with an owner while wearing a blindfold, just doesn't make sense.  That is what a breeder does when they allow an owner to choose their puppy.  Why not sift through them all and find the one that would be the best match? 

There are breeders who place puppies as they come out, literally.  Others who have people choose at two weeks of age.  Some breeders just stand back and let the new prospective owner have at it.  But let me tell you that the majority of new owners have no idea what they are looking for.  They have no knowledge of choosing the best puppy for them and rely solely on "looks."  I remember looking at a beautiful litter of puppies a few years back.  There was definitely a standout in the litter, as far as energy goes.  One little puppy who was going to give their new owner a run for their money.  The breeder said she hoped that the owners were ready for this puppy.  She'd been chosen before anyone knew what she was like.  That is just sad, because someone who was interested in a puppy like this was going to miss out.  Plus the person who was now destined to get her, may regret the day she picked her out. 

One of the biggest reasons that dogs end up being turned over to a rescue is choosing the wrong breed or mix of breeds.  The next is because they chose the wrong dog.  Of course it can all work out and you can live happily ever after but why not do your best to get a dog that you will be able to live with easily?  You need to know yourself; know what you want to live with, what you want to have to deal with in your life.  There is nothing wrong with choosing a dog that will mesh with your life.  I see far too many, very unhappy people who struggle with their dogs on a daily basis.  Dogs who are frustrated being put into a life that is very difficult for them on a day to day basis. 

I have talked to many people who think that if you want a dog, you just take a dog.  Any dog, a dog is a dog.  Well, that statement makes about as much sense as saying a human is a human.  Why not try to find your best match?  Doing temperament testing gives the dog and the human a greater chance at happiness.  Why not do it?