The first section of most puppy aptitude tests are concerned with how sociable and accepting their personality is. The second part of the testing is about discovering how sensitive a pup is: can the pup cope with the equipment and environs they will be in as a working dog. It’s usually called “obedience skills” but it would seem more explainatory to a layperson to call it “general sensitivity”.
A dogs ability to tune out background noise, or adjust to a different setting is very important for one reason–if they are disturbed by noises or rattled by an unexpected object, they will lose their focus on their tasks.
A pup with sound phobias cannot easily learn when those noises are present, or work well if they get distracted too easily. It’s not likely they’ll encounter a real “monster” like poor Scooby here, but a dog that spooks alot will be stressed out and struggle with public settings.
To test how bombproof a pup is, most PAT use things like a toe-pinch or some mild pinching in a sensitive spot. The test doesn’t hurt a puppy, it merely gets to gauge how long it takes to get the pup to respond.
Pinching between the toes, while gradually increasing pressure (no nails!) and counting to ten is the usual technique. Some will pinch the skin or ear. The idea is finding out is this puppy “body sensitive”. A body sensitive puppy is not what you want for a working dog. Given the inevitable being messed with by the public or wearing of equipment an assistance dog needs, anyway.
It is very rare for a puppy not to respond by pulling away the foot or moving to stop the pinching. A good response time is 5 or 6 seconds of tolerating, then the pup rather nonchalantly taking their foot back. It’s ideal if they then return to wanting to play with you or getting attention from you. A puppy that yelps or shies away from you for it is likely going to be a body sensitive guy or gal, as that is a rather strong reaction.
I’ve found that some pups that pull away at 3 or 4 seconds aren’t so sensitive that they won’t be able to adjust to such things, if the handler takes the time to get them conditioned to accept unwanted handling or harnesses/packs on their body. A pup may start out a little sensitive and become conditioned to it. But a strong reaction by a puppy is a red flag.
One of the main problems I have had with my past dogs is sound senstivity. A pup that has had the benefit of exposure to noise during that 3-6 week old window of fearless acceptance will be much more laid back.
This is little Pixie, a 6 wk old candidate of a friend of mine. Sweet Pixie has had her aptitude test and passed with flying colors! She’s being well raised, and I know my friend will be a great home for further socializing, and training for this darling little girl.
However, other puppies that has never left the home, or not had the benefit of good socializing, and sound sensitizing to non-domestic sounds introduced via CD will have to be introduced to startling and loud noises during the 8 wk old fear period, which is less than ideal.
Usually the tests will bang a metal pan, or drop a broom handle and the like. The point is to make a loud sound the puppy has not encountered, to see will the pup startle a little or a lot, then if they recover themselves and become curious about the sound.
A real freak out by a puppy indicates they are going to be either very timid if they are running away to hide, or a bold scrap of a lad if they then go to bark at what made the noise. A pup that notices then goes on like it never happened may seem like a good idea, but it isn’t really, as that is a red flag for lack of curiosity.
Sight sensitivity is also tested for, typcially with an umbrella or novel object like a motion sensing owl Joyce Guthrie uses. The tester wants to see how reactive the puppy is and how curious they become. Alarm barking is undesirable, as is cowering or just ignoring it. What you want to see is a pup that decides to investigate, even if somewhat cautiously at first.
Working dogs will encounter strange, noisy, moving things on a daily basis in public. So a youngster that wants to figure out what these things are will be willing to interact with their environment and not be afraid of it. They will adjust quickly, accept the bustle of the human world easily, and not be stressed.
Using my past dogs as examples, I can easily see why sound sensitization and extensive socializing at 3-6 wks is so important. http://www.puppyprodigies.org/Early%20Learning%20Program%20Highlights.htm
- Kenai–as a pup he was totally bombproof. He would notice a bang or odd object, and maybe startle slightly. He would recover quickly, but often just go on with what he was doing. He later became very noise phobic as the tick diseases began to mess with his central nervous system. But when he was 9 wks old, his tester couldn’t get him in a flap about anything, including a live parrot squawking and flapping its wings.
- Levi–was wonderfully tolerant, too. He would pull away his foot, and come right back for playing. But he had the additional tendency to want to know what that funny noisy thing was. His curiosity would fast get the better of him! This is what you want for an assistance dog candidate; a mild startle at most, then going to check it out. Levi would often want to play with the object, too, and carry it off like some trophy.
- Merlin–would really startle, and often went into alarm mode. Sometimes he would run away like that umbrella was going to eat him. Sometimes he would charge up and bark at something. He was a handful, and this is a puppy best left to skilled, experienced owners willing to put in the time to re-condition a reactive pup. Merlin was not at all service dog material.