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Puppy Temperament Testing

We use the word "temperament" to describe the overall combination of traits that describe how a puppy perceives and interacts with his/her world. Much of a puppy's temperament is genetically based. However the early environment, the stability of the puppy's mother and early human contact (socialization) play a role in the development of a stable, confident and socialable puppy who will be at ease in our complex world.

The ideal time to assess a puppy's temperament is at 49 days of age (7 weeks). EEGs performed at this age show that a puppy's brain waves are the same as an adult. Studies done at six weeks and six and a half weeks show that the EEG tracings still demonstrate immature brain wave activity. At forty-nine days the puppy's brain is mature but a "clean slate" in terms of learned behaviors. Each day after seven weeks the puppy's responses to testing will be significantly modified by its environment and will not truly represent his/her innate genetic temperament. (Animal behaviorists call this a learned behavioral response to environmental stimuli.) This is the reason that 49 days has been chosen as the best day to assess a puppy's temperament.

Temperament tests have been developed to try to determine the fundamental personality of a puppy. and use this to predict the puppy's behavior as an adult. The first attempt to test puppies was developed by Clarence Pfaffenberger a San Francisco dog trainer and animal behaviorist. He volunteered for Guide Dogs for the Blind for more than twenty years during the 1940's and 50's. He observed that less than 10% of guide dog trainees were able to complete their training. After studying the work of Scott and Fuller on litter development, he became convinced that not only was intelligence required to become a guide dog but also a certain personality was needed. He developed an early system of testing for personality traits that would make a successful guide dog. By using his early personality testing program the success rate for Guide Dig training increased from 9% to 90%. In 1963 he published his research and observations in a classic book The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior. Over the years several improvements have been made and Pfaffenberger's original tests have been "tweaked" so that personality traits of not just service dogs but family companion dogs may be identified.

Wendy Volhard developed a standardized temperament test in 1979 and her film of the test entitled Puppy Aptitude Testing (PAT) was named best film for 1981 by the Dog Writers Association of America. This test consists of a series of exercises that give information about a puppy's tendencies. Traits including socialibility, dominance status, retrieving instinct, prey drive, pain threshold, sound sensitivity are evaluated. There is a standard scoring system for the usual responses to the individual exercises. A full description of the tests and scoring can be found at the following link: http://www.volhard.com/pages/pat.php
A second useful link regarding scoring and interpreting the Volhard PAT from a working dog perspective is: http://workingdogs.com/testing_volhard.htm

Dogs are pack animals and before the temperament test the puppies have rarely been separated from their littermates, only for nail trimming and baths. The test is designed purposefully to be stressful for a puppy. It is done individually so there is no support from their littermates or mom. We do it an area of our home where the puppies have never been before. How a puppy copes with a strange environment (new sounds, sights and smells) is almost as important as the test scores themselves. The tester is someone that the puppies have never met before so that social attraction and dominance testing are meaningful. Overall the entire process evaluates the stability of a puppy's personality in reacting to new stimuli.

PAT has been used by countless breeders, trainers and lay people to aid them in determining which puppies have the most suitable personalities for show, field work, service dogs, guide dogs and family pets. We have used a version of this temperament test to evaluate our PWD and Standard Poodle litters for more than twenty-five years. Results of this test help us to determine the suitable home to place each individual puppy. Each puppy in a litter will have its own personality traits and we will be able to see those traits developing in the puppy The PAT is not the sole tool we use in the process of matching puppies to families. We use the notes we have made of our observations of each puppy in the litter as they develop, as well as your puppy questionnaire to assist in matching puppies. We like to learn as much as possible about your family and your lifestyle as we strive to pick the best puppy for your situation. This is also the reason we require an interview with you before the puppy is 7 weeks old. We want to find the puppy who best matches your family's lifestyle. This allows us to ensure that both your family and the puppy will enjoy a long and happy life together.

Below is a movie that briefly depicts snippets of a 2008 litter's temperament test at Dacher. The tester is our friend and fellow PWD breeder Bee Souza. Hopefully the movie will give you a better idea of what a temperament test is. Do remember that the typical test takes 15 minutes per puppy and the movie is just a montage of different puppies responses to testing.

Click on the Image to Launch a Quicktime Movie of Temperament Test

Temperament Test 2008

Created January 4, 2009
Modified February 25, 2012