Temperament Testing: How much can it really tell you?
Your kids have been hounding you for a year to get a new puppy, ever since their cousin got a new beagle puppy. So, being a wise parent you decided to make a deal with your kids. If they could keep their rooms clean for a month they could have a puppy. You also put them in charge of researching the best kind of puppy for your family. You figured you were safe for the next six months at least. They couldn’t keep their rooms clean for thirty minutes let alone thirty days.
Eenie Meenie Chili Beanie Which Puppy is the Perfect Puppy for Me
You were wrong! Now you are puppy shopping. You learned from your brother’s beagle challenges that adopting a puppy is a gamble. Is there anything you can do to improve your chances? What if anything can you do to fix it if you guess wrong? Is there a crystal ball or magic wand that will show you what the puppy will be like in six months or a year? Not really.
There are a number of temperament tests devised by various breeders based on a book, New Knowledge of Dog Behavior, written by Clarence Pfaffenberger a volunteer at Guide Dogs for the Blind. He claimed to improve success rates of dogs in the program from 9% to 90% by using this test. This has never been substantiated. He insisted that puppies must be tested on the forty-ninth day after birth because learning occurs and interaction with outside environment happens after that which will interfere with the results.
Would you Buy a Racehorse Based on How Fast It Stood Up the First Time?
I see three problems with the test and the premise it’s based on. First is that the actual tests are completely arbitrary and have no correlation with real life. Secondly, it is based on a single day of the puppy’s life and assumes that every puppy is at exactly the same stage of development. The third assumption is that after forty-nine days the test results can be affected by how the puppy interacts with its environment which to me would be much more valuable information. (Oddly enough though, the promoters of one of these tests state that if the puppy is having an off day on the forty-ninth day the test can be administered at a later date. How is that valid then?)
There is Better Information out There
A two year study done by Gabi Hoffmann for her doctoral thesis at the University of Queensland proved that the puppies went through so many developmental changes that there was no way of knowing what the puppy was going to be like until at least five months of age.
The most definitive study on dog behavior and development was a thirteen year study done by Scott and Fuller resulting in the book Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog. They discovered that there were not only wide variations in behavioral traits from breed to breed but also from individual to individual within a breed and even within a single litter. These behavioral traits fluctuated throughout the first year.
More importantly for dog owners and breeders they discovered that behavior traits were never only a matter of genetics or strictly a matter of environment but that the two interacted on each other. A puppy that might act overly confident in one situation might be fearful in another environment. They also learned that the peak periods of socialization happened around five weeks and seven weeks and to a lesser degree at nine weeks. Scott and Fuller pointed out that while genetics were an important part of the temperament of the dog a great deal could be done much more quickly with effective early socialization and training of the young puppies.
So Now What? Do Your Homework on How to Adopt a Puppy!
What does all of this information mean to you, Mom and Dad Puppy Shopper? It means once you have decided on the kind of dog you want do your homework! Do the leg work! Forget about any magical one shot temperament test that will see into the future of your puppy.
The family in our story decided on a boxer puppy. They loved the idea that boxers have a good reputation with children and are pretty active. Boxers require only a little grooming. They learned that the downsides were that they can be a little challenging to train and they can have some serious health problems, especially cancer.
Next, they talked to breeders. They asked questions about their goals in breeding the puppies they had. They asked if this was a repeat breeding and if so, could they talk to the owners of puppies from the earlier litters? They asked about how the puppies were raised and socialized the first several weeks. The best situation is for the puppies to be raised in the home with normal household noises and plenty of opportunity to interact with adults and children. They asked if they could come and see the puppies at least a couple of times.
Could they meet both parents and could they see how the mother is with people around her puppies? What kinds of health tests were done on the parents? Could they speak with their vet? What kind of guarantees does the breeder give on health and temperament? Could they take the puppy to their vet for a check- up?
Next our prospective puppy buyers waited to see what questions the breeder had for them. A breeder who doesn’t care where his or her puppies are going or what their little lives will look like may well just be in it for the money. He probably won’t be available in a few months when you have questions about how your puppy is acting. If he does return your calls he may not have any answers for you.
You Can Pay now or Maybe Pay the Vet Later
Keep in mind that professional breeders have a lot invested in their dogs so the price of their puppies are going to reflect that. You may get a perfectly fine puppy from a backyard breeder for much less money but you are going to be taking on more risk. The up side of many backyard breeders that I have met is that the mom of the puppies is usually a family pet. So she and the puppies are a part of the household and naturally exposed to the noise and activity of family life. The bottom line is that the choice is really up to you as long as you educate yourself in advance. An excellent follow up article is Puppy Picking by Gary Wilkes. It is not only highly informative but pretty darned entertaining.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laurie Yakish is a dog trainer and dog behavior specialist working in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She is certified through Animal Behavior College but more importantly Laurie was mentored by Gary Wilkes who pioneered clicker training and many other groundbreaking behavior modification protocols. Laurie is an active member of IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals). Dog obsessed since she was four years old, by seven she was frustrating the daylights out of her mother by stealing snacks out of the cupboards to use as treats to train her dog Pepper to play high jump.
You can learn more about Laurie and her unique brand of dog training by visiting www.dogtraininglauriesway.com