One of the “dangers” of going to look at a litter? THEY’RE ALL TOO CUTE! That being said, whether you are looking for a pet, a pup to run rally with you, or a companion, you should consider aptitude testing.
Why? Because nothing takes the joy out of a new puppy faster than realizing they aren’t well suited to your life or family. If you have a busy, kid-filled house and the puppy turns out to be a little timid and noise sensitive, not only does the puppy find your home stressful, you have a lot of changes and choices to make about what to do.
There’s a whole myriad of “uh-oh” that can happen when the owner and puppy aren’t well suited. It’s much better to have had the puppy’s temperment tested before paying for them and putting them through the unavoidable stress of coming to a strange home with strangers and no littermates.
Puppy Aptitude Testing (PAT) is nothing more than finding out the puppy’s natural personality. Most of them break down into simple tests to discover the pup’s level of social skills, learning abilities, and general sensitivity. These are typically done at 6-8 wks old, so the situations you can use to look for an unlearned response are both simple for the test and still novel to the pup.
There are a lot of temperment tests to choose from, as well, mostly variations on the Volhard temperment test: http://www.volhard.com/pages/pat.php I’ve recently purchased a book that is a slight ‘variant’ of the Volhard, designed and written by Joyce Guthrie. She is a breeder, trainer, and experienced Great Dane handler. http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Vanna11
If possible, you would like a highly experienced person giving the test, and evaulating the results. You should also ask questions of them, like “when you say the puppy is (–), what impact does that have on our lifestyle or training needs?”. Have the evaluator give you details and recommendations not just for which puppy is best for you, but why and what you can expect the puppy to require of you and your family.
PAT is a complicated evaluation, requiring inferences and observational skills, which is why I recommend that it be given and interpreted by someone with experience. But to give you some understanding of the tests and what they are looking for, I’d like to at least hit the high points. I’ll look first at the social skills section of the tests in the next posts; social attraction, following, restraint responses, and level of independence.
A puppy’s natural inclination to come to you will have a big say on how easily they are trained in the future, and ultimately how well they will fit your life. I am no expert, mind you, but I can look back at puppies in my past and see how these tests absolutely predict the future. I’ve sorta “learned the hard way”, so please learn from my mistakes rather than have to make them yourself!
For social attraction and following, the tests are usually just clapping your hands or getting the puppy’s attention at a short distance to see how readily they come or follow you without being distracted, and what body language they show when doing so. I’ll use examples of my own past puppies for some comparison.
He wasn’t anti-social, mind you. He just prefered canine company, and was pretty independent from the start. Crate training took about 3 days, because he was content enough to lay there by himself. He had a naturally easy temperment, in terms of not misbehaving or tearing things up. He was a calm guy when he was little.
However, I never did get a reliable off leash recall on him. He learned his basic obedience super fast, and was bombproof about noise and new environments when little. But once he made up his mind about a place or object, there was no changing it. Kenai was his own boy; he thought for himself, and problem solved on his own. This creates major challenges for advanced types of training.
2) Levi was in a hurry to come see you, and followed me all over the place. Normally his tail was up and wagging, his eyes happy for the attention. He was a very friendly little fellow, and his attentiveness to humans translated later on to being very easily taught to sit or come. Had there not been other problems I didn’t have the skill and energy to work out, he could have become an outstanding service dog.
3) Shabah couldn’t wait to come to a gentle person with a gentle voice and touch, but he approached with his head low and tail down doing a nervous wag. He was very shy of men and firm handlers in general. He later learned his obedience commands with terrifying speed, and had a nearly 200 word vocabulary, but he was so timid that just going to the pet store was stressful enough to cause him diarrhea. He took as much effort as Kenai on the opposite end of the spectrum, and I never really did trust him around children. He was my “heart dog”, a total soulmate of a pet, but alot of work.
Oddly enough, the only test that really talks about what Joyce Guthrie refers to as emotionally hard or soft dogs was her own book. All three of these puppies were emotially soft, even independent Kenai. He never required more than a mild scolding to stop unwanted behavior. If I was too harsh with any of them, they would be very upset and devastated. This is something you want to look for too–if your spouse has a tendency to get mad and yell, even an “independent” dog may not be able to cope with it.
If you are looking for a pup with a defined purpose, especially as an assitance dog, the Levi response is not negotiable. Assistance dogs must be human focused and set people as their highest priority. For a dog with that inclination, affection is one of the best rewards, and it makes them much easier to train at advanced levels. Mostly because you don’t have spend time trying merely to get them to pay attention to you.
Now if you have the skill and time to socialize a shy pup like Shabah, or keep a consistently firm but gentle hand with an independent dog like Kenai, then more power to you. However, most people will need to chose a pup like Levi. Shabah would not have done well in a loud, kid-filled home, or as a regular on the agility scene. Neither would Kenai, for very different reasons.