I’ve begun a series of posts to explain what’s known as puppy aptitude testing, to help you understand that a puppies personality is often largely “set” by the age of 8 weeks old, when they come home with you. An owner really should take the time and effort to find a breeder that not only does or has done the PAT, but will explain the results and implications of those tests to a buyer.
The first area of social skills in the PAT was discussed in the last post, and concerned the puppy’s social attraction to people. Did the puppy come to you readily despite distractions? Did the puppy follow you, or decide to go pounce on a littermate instead? The idea is to find out how much the little tots ranks people attention as their priority.
This is just a funny pic giving you a “visual aid” in determining social attraction–what’s the most commonly seen side of the puppy, front or back? With my late Kenai, it was the beautiful brown backside!
The next tests in the social skills section of most puppy aptitude tests are to determine “social dominance”. The word “dominance” has become a loaded term in training circles, so I’m going to use a different word: independence. Sometimes a thesaurus is the best way to avoid an argument that eclipses the whole post!
Typically refered to as restraint or handling tests, the idea is to place the puppy’s body in an awkward position and see how they react. Often, tests will gently and gradually roll the puppy to their back and not let them up. Some will lift their bodies slightly off the ground. I’ve even read that some will hold the puppy down on their side in a common restraint position at the vet. Many testers will use more than one restraint position, too.
1) Kenai was a ‘struggler’ who hated to be restrained. He didn’t bite or growl, but he made it clear that he did not like this. His usual vet techs learned not to hold him down, since he would not stop struggling in a reasonable amount of time. I went all out adjusting him to every sort of body part handling and he would dutifully hold still for whatever the vet needed to do, however “indelicate”.
2) my late Taj would resist just a little bit, then decide it was a good opportunity for a tummy rub and wag his tail, looking at you with soft, playful eyes. He hardly ever met a stranger, my Taj-ster. Some puppies will avoid looking at you but not be distressed by restraint. These are good results, when they quit the “lemme up” fuss quickly.
3) my late Shabah, the puppy mill rescued merle, would struggle only a very little, avoiding eye contact, tucking his tail, and sometimes whimper. If it was a man doing this, he would even piddle some. This is a highly submissive, insecure reaction and it was a big clue at how timid he would be as he grew up.
I also worked with him to allow the vet to do even unpleasant things, so long as he wasn’t restrained or cornered, he didn’t get so stressed as to need muzzling. A gentle touch, allowed to watch what they were doing, and lots of reassurance made him managable at the vet. He never gave me any trouble at home, which was good. He had his own “asssigned” vet tech, who had a way with calming him, and always had some gentle reward for him.
You want a puppy with the Taj-like response. Especially in a large or giant breed dog, who will attain a size that can seriously injure someone. They will more quickly accept handling and messing with, without being distressed by it. I mentioned the vet, but it’s not only the vet that handles a dog. Groomers, show handlers, trainers, kids, and people at the pet store will do things to the dog’s body.
This determination of independence or emotional insecurity is tremendously important for any puppy buyer to know, because kids will hug spontaneously. Kenai would have allowed for a time then gently pulled away. Taj would have gotten happy and wanted to play. Shabah would have growled or even bitten them out of fear. You need to know what it will take to prepare the puppy for the inevitable future rudeness of people.
For an assistance dog, the calm acceptance is required. Such dogs are out in public where no companion goes, and human behavior is unpredictable. Strangers ARE going to put their hands on your service dog. Toddlers will innocently assume your working dog is like their own pet and run right up for a hug and bug. If you begin with a puppy that shows a willingness to accept stranger handling, then you can practice the hugs and bugs until the puppy gently permits it without getting reactive.