Although the breeder often has an idea of the personalities of each puppy, temperament testing using a stranger and a new environment may pick out traits we have not seen. In addition, the testing might also support some of different behaviors we may have seen as they interacted among their siblings in their secure environment.
The testing we use follows the well known Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test which was designed by german shepard breeders. It is recommended to be done on the “49th day” or seven weeks. In the past most breeders and many performance competitors considered this the magic number. I think this can depend a lot on the environment they are raised in and interaction of the breeder with the litter. I certainly feel before 7 weeks is too early as they still have lots they can learn from siblings interactions.
When temperament testing it is important to take them to a place or room they have never been in before as well as the person running the test should be unfamiliar with the puppies. Thankfully, we did not have to travel but a few miles to a friend’s home who had an area suitable for testing and training buddy, Susan Steffey was our tester.
The test is not without faults and since it is only performed once other factors could influence the results. We all have “bad” days so if the test really seems to conflict with how the puppy might normally react then the breeder has to use his/her best judgement when placing that puppy. Temperament can be shaped by genetic and environmental factors as well as training. For example, it is natural for a retriever to want to carry items in their mouth and it is natural for a border collie to want to corral a group of running children. You could teach your border collie to fetch and your retriever to corral sheep but it is not a natural instinct.
There are a series of exercises within the test that evaluate the puppy for social behavior around people,reactions to new stimuli, prey drive and trainability. Susan and I have slightly modified the test in the retrieve portion by using multiple items vs. just the foil ball since we are looking for desire to retrieve in our field dogs.
They also have an exercise that requires the tester to pinch a pup’s toes for sensitivity test. We drop this test. As a vet, I want no aversion to having their feet handled and we felt like it was an unnecessary stress on the puppies.
I can say with conviction that there was no big surprises on the test results. The more social pups were attracted to the tester and wanted to work for her. The more cautious pups had to be coaxed a little but not much and the overachievers enjoyed the prey drive exercises. Overall, I think they all exhibited good social skills , good trainability and the adaptability of a well-bred, environmentally calm but stimulating environment. In other words, I was very proud of my little babies!