Temperament testing a puppy is necessary in order to find a pup that will meet your needs

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Temperament testing a puppy is necessary in order to find a pup that will meet your needs......



Temperament testing a puppy is necessary in order to find a pup that will meet your needs, match your personality and ensure a life-long bond and friendship. Finding the right dog is as important as finding the right spouse, but most people put more energy into buying a second-hand car that they will dump in two years than into finding a dog that may live as long as 14 years.

Whether you want a couch-potato or a National Competitor, a good temperament test is the place to start to help you figure out which is which. Now, there are many different temperament tests out there and they will all help you in one way or another, but this one is the one that works the best for us. We will stop and explain the how’s and whey’s as we go.

The pup has what are called DRIVES. Drives are a large part of what you are going to be testing. The dog’s drives include: Prey Drive, Defense Drive, Food Drive, Fighting Drive and Sex Drive.

In order to determine which pup is right for you, it is necessary to test the drives of the pup. Most owners are not looking for extreme drives in their dogs. They want a dog with balanced drives. A dog with balanced drives will work, play, protect and settle into family life. If an owner wants a more extreme dog, i.e.: super-hard protection dog or high-level competition dog, he will look for a pup with more extreme drives.

The primary drive we will test is the prey drive. Prey drive is important because it is used to relieve the stress of training. Think of the learning process as a pressure cooker. The more you teach the dog, the higher the pressure will climb. Now, think of the prey game as the relief valve…..it releases the pressure so there is no explosion and no one gets hurt. For temperament testing, we break prey drive down into sub-divisions: Ball drive, rag drive and retrieve drive. Testing these sub-divisions in a puppy tells us where we can expect to see a training problem later. For example, a pup with little or no prey drive will make a good couch potato but will only be able to handle the stress of mild household obedience. To expect any more of this dog would be unfair to him and a waste of your time.

The second drive it is necessary to test is the defense drive. A dog with a strong defense drive, when pushed, will protect it’s territory, home, self and pack (you and your family). A dog with strong defense drives will make an excellent personal protection dog. A dog with little or no defense drive will show the burglar where the key to the safe is hidden. Defense drive is tested when the dog achieves a bit of maturity and will be discussed in a future article. For our purposes here, temperament testing young puppies, we will focus on prey drive testing.

In addition to the pup’s drives, it is also necessary to test it’s levels of forgiveness (pain tolerance), sound sensitivity (nerve base) and dominance.

Checking a puppy’s level of forgiveness is one of the most important aspects of the temperament test. A puppy with low levels of forgiveness makes a poor candidate for almost any type of lifestyle. Unless you are among the most knowledgeable of trainers, a dog with low forgiveness will necessitate frequent trips to the blood bank for it’s handler. Even if you are looking for the couch potato or family pet, forgiveness is of the utmost importance. That will become clear the first time little Johnny steps on Rover’s tail.

Sound sensitivity is tested in order to determine the stability of a pup’s nerves. Picture a full-grown American Bulldog out for a stroll with it’s owner. A bicyclist whizzes by, ringing her bell. If this dog is overly sound sensitive, the ringing bell could send it fleeing uncontrollably—dragging it’s owner behind it. An equally sad reaction is that of the dog who cowers and trembles in fear. The sound sensitivity segment of the test will give us a glimpse at the nerve base of the dog.

The dominance test is simply to determine how easily this particular dog will let you boss it around when he’s a full-grown 100 pound male who does not want to get off the couch. Who will be the boss of your household…you or your dog? While the super-dominant dog may not be ideal for the average pet owner, it could make a terrific sport dog for the experienced handler.

Now that we’ve given you an idea of what we are testing for and why, let’s begin the temperament test. Although much of this test can be used for older dogs, ideally the temperament test should be given to a puppy at 8 weeks of age. You will want to have handy the following three items: A tennis ball, a stainless steel bowl and a dishtowel-size rag or scrap of fake fur.

Let’s begin.

STEP ONE: Sociability

The first thing that we’re going to look for is the general sociability of the litter from which you are choosing your pup. As you approach the area in which the puppies are kept, what is their reaction to you? We like to see puppies barking with glee at the sight of humans. Tails wagging, bodies pushing against the walls of the puppy pen or kennel, these puppies want to be with humans. Beware of the puppy who hangs back. Indifferent to your presence or fearful at the sight of you, these pups are not likely to bond well or grow into the partner you desire. If the majority of the pups in the litter have an indifferent/fearful reaction dismiss this litter….there is something very wrong here.


STEP TWO: Prey Drive

Separate from the others the pups that Step One proved to be the friendliest and most outgoing of the litter. Take out your rag and get the pup’s attention. With short jerking motions, drag the rag along the ground. What we like to see are puppies scrambling over one another, chasing the rag. This is prey drive. For the average owner looking for a pet, a puppy that shows interest in the rag and makes an effort to follow it along is fine. This pup will be able to blow off the stress of basic obedience with a prey game. For sport purposes, you will want the puppy who is focused on that rag and pursues it mercilessly until he gets his bite. This dog is more likely to be able to blow off the greater degree of stress involved in sport training with a higher drive for a more intense prey game. This prey drive is also instrumental in teaching bitework to the dog. Intense prey drive is fine for the house pet too, as long as you have plenty of time and energy to play with your dog.

After the first two steps of the temperament test you may have the litter narrowed down to two or three puppies. From this point on, conduct your temperament test individually, completing one step with each pup before moving on to the next step. This allows relaxation time for each pup between each step. If you have only one pup to test, leave at least 15 minutes between steps in order to be fair to the puppy.


STEP THREE: Sound Sensitivity

Step three is the test we do to check the puppy’s sound sensitivity and nerve base. This test should be done on a hard floor or pavement. Take the puppy to a quiet area. Engage the puppy in play. With the puppy’s attention focused on the gave he is playing with you, have a friend drop the stainless steel bowl on the ground 3 or 4 feet behind him. The proper reaction range varies from total indifference to a mild startled reaction to an investigation of the object….all followed by a swift recovery. Recovery is gauged by the puppy’s willingness to return to the game you had been playing. What we do not want to see is a fear reaction and failure to recover. If the puppy runs away and refuses to engage in play, or if the puppy is shaking and quivering and cannot be distracted from it’s shocked state, this is not the puppy for you.


STEP FOUR: Prey Drive and Retrieval Instinct

In this simple test, just roll the tennis ball lightly away from the puppy. A pup with good prey drive will chase after the ball. A puppy with a good retrieval instinct will bring the ball back to you. Retrieval skills are important for everything from Frisbee games to retrieval exercises in advanced obedience routines. While retrieval skills are not crucial for the pet owner who doesn’t mind chasing Daphne around the park in an attempt to reclaim the tennis ball, they are necessary for high-level obedience. Keep in mind that with persistence, this is a skill that can be taught.


STEP FIVE: Dominance


After a few minutes of light play, roll the puppy over onto his back. With your hand on the pup’s chest, hold it down for a minimum of 60 seconds. We do not wish to see either of the two extreme reactions to this test. The first poor reaction is that of the puppy who just lays there silently submitting with no struggle or sound. The second poor reaction is that of the puppy who attempts to blow into you in an all-out attack, refusing to submit to you.
The following are the desirable reactions:
For the pet:
Puppy should wriggle and whine, making his unwillingness to be on his back very clear. After a few moments the puppy will submit, falling into a relaxed state.

For the Sport dog:
Puppy will wriggle, snarl and bark. This pup lets you know in no uncertain terms her disgust with the position she is in. After a few moments, she will submit, falling into a relaxed state.
As you can see, in both scenarios, you are the victor. When your bulldog is a 100 pound, muscle-bound dog who does not wish to take a bath, you’ll be glad that you had done this test.


STEP SIX: Forgiveness

In our opinions, forgiveness is crucial requirement for any puppy. Once again, engage the puppy in play. When you are certain the pup is focused on the game, take her paw and pinch her on the fatty edge of the webbing between her toes. DO NOT be wishy-washy about this pinch!!! You must pinch the puppy swiftly and with enough pressure to make the puppy yelp. The proper reaction to this test is, as you may have guessed, forgiveness. When the pinch is over, the puppy should forgive you quickly, wither by re-engaging in play or licking your face and allowing you to pet it. The puppy that runs away from you and refuses to return is not going to be a good dog for most people. Nor is the puppy who tries to kill you in retaliation (an attempt which can be awfully cute in a 15 pound puppy, but awfully un-cute in an 85 pound dog). If the idea of pinching a puppy is distasteful to you, remember—the pinch lasts but a moment, but that puppy will grow up to be a big dog who will be playing with your children for his lifetime. Forgiveness is crucial for obedience training, protection training and practically all phases of a dog’s life.

This concludes the temperament test. While no test is 100% accurate at predicting future behavior of your puppy, it has been our experience that this test will increase your odds of purchasing a pup with a stable nerve base, good trainability and a willingness to love, be loved and bond with it’s family.

When selecting your new puppy, keep in mind the goals you have for her as a full-grown dog. Gauge the importance of each step of the test accordingly. Aside from Step 6, this temperament test should be used as a guideline, not a law book. If your pup does great on all phases of the test, but will not retrieve the tennis ball, don’t worry!!! This is still a great pup!

Take your time, research the breed, call many trainers, call many breeders and ask many questions. Do your homework and you will be rewarded with a puppy that will fit your lifestyle and personality perfectly. Good Luck and Good Bulldogging!!!!!


Eileen Jawoworski and Richard Quinn, Topline American Bulldogs, ®2000
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