Temperament is a common term in the dog world but few of us actually know the definition of the word. Temperament refers to the aspects and traits of a person, or dog’s, personality that they were born with; the innate verses learned traits.
In child psychology, the ‘nine temperament characteristics of Thomas and Chess’ include:
- Activity – physical energy
- Regularity – ability to learn and stay on a routine
- Initial Reaction – how a child responds to new people or environments
- Adaptability – how long does it take for the child to adapt to change
- Intensity – refers to the energy level of a positive or negative response
- Mood – general tendency to be happy or unhappy
- Distractibility – tendency to be sidetracked by other things
- Persistence and attention span – length of time a child will stay on a task and through frustrations
- Sensitivity – how easily a child is disturbed by changes in environment
Temperament in puppies is not much different. All pups are born with specific traits – how quickly they adjust to a new environment, how active and inquisitive they are, how they react to loud sudden noises, and how persistent they are at a specific activity are all important when choosing the right pup for a person or environment. For example, a timid, hesitant puppy who cowers at a loud sound will not necessarily make a good gun dog. In comparison, an inquisitive pup who explores new environments and sounds will probably make an excellent gun dog.
There are many versions of tests for temperament testing a puppy but the one most commonly used is the Volhard Temperament Test.
The Volhard Temperament Test includes nine individual components to test:
- Social Attraction – demonstrates degree of social attraction, confidence or dependence
- Following – degree of following attraction; not following indicates independence
- Restraint – degree of dominant or submissive tendency; how pup accepts stress when socially and/or physically dominated
- Social Dominance – degree of acceptance of social dominance ; pup may try to dominate by jumping and nipping or show independence and walks away
- Elevation – degree of accepting dominance while in a position of no control
- Retrieving – degree of willingness to work with a human; good retrievers make successful guide dogs, obedience dogs and field trial dogs
- Touch Sensitivity – degree of sensitivity to touch
- Sound Sensitivity – degree of sensitivity to sound and rudimentary test for deafness
- Sight Sensibility or Stability- degree of intelligent response to a strange object
The Volhard Temperament Test also has a section for physical structure that is essential for a show dog or a dog that is expected to work such as a field trials, agility, or herding dog. This portion of the test should be done by someone who understands the mechanics of movement and structure.
Temperament Testing a Puppy
Ideally, to get the most accurate scores when temperament testing a puppy, the litter should be taken to an unfamiliar property or house so that are tested on even round. You will need a moderate sized room or fenced securely with an area for the judge to stand and observe that is away from the testing area. The puppies should not know the person that is to do the testing so that there is no pre-established relationship that may skew the scores.
The tester will also need a piece of crumpled up paper, a pot, a wooden spoon, a piece of string or thin leash, and an old towel. These items should be ready ahead of when the pups arrive so that little to no time is wasted collecting materials.
Pups ideally should be seven weeks old at the time of testing.
Next, follow the instructions on the score sheet. The tester should have a good understanding of each test before the pup comes in and although difficult, should behave the same way with each pup.
Remember that although the pups are being tested for their reactions, care must be taken to not over stress the pups to a degree that they become frightened or spooked.
Keep in mind that pups tire easily and if the car ride alone was long enough to wear them out, you may need to test half the pups in a litter, allow them to nap, and then finish up the remaining pups. An overly tired puppy can skew the results dramatically as can a pup that has been recently wormed, is not feeling well, or is teething.
The Results from Temperament Testing a Puppy
On the testing sheet, there is a place to interpret the results of the temperament testing. Although these scores give a general idea of the puppies aptitudes, there is no guarantee that a dominant and aggressive pup will grow up to be difficult to train or that a submissive , fearful pup will always be a nervous Nellie. What temperament tests judge is the general traits of the pup and for a breeder who is used to interpreting the results, the tests help them to decide which pup goes to which prospective owner. If someone is looking for a show dog, giving them the pup that is scared of her own shadow may be a mistake UNLESS that person has experience boosting the confidence of spooky pups. Usually any pups that are score either all 1’s or all 6’s requires an experienced owner who understands how to raise a solid pup.
Temperament testing is a tool for judging the innate traits of a puppy or litter of puppies; an excellent tool but no one should rely on it alone in choosing a pup.