Choosing a puppy that will grow into a dog you can live with always has been something of a gamble. Now you can turn the odds in your favor with a simple test that will tell you a few things about the pup's personality before you bring him home.
Dog Owners Guidance Service (DOGS) of Sun Valley, Calif., has devised a test to reveal a puppy's temperament as early as five weeks of age. Although it offers no guarantees, the DOGS test can help the inexperienced puppy buyer to see tendencies that will become stronger as the pup matures. It can help you choose the pup that will be easiest for you to train and will have the best chance of adjusting successfully in your home.
The idea of testing puppies came from the need to select reliable dogs to lead the blind. Guide Dogs for the Blind, a California organization, was the first to develop a puppy test to measure intelligence, temperament, and noise and body sensitivity. "We find our tests particularly useful for weeding out extreme personality types," a spokesman for the school said.
Dave Duffy, a writer and professional trainer, and Richard Wolters, author of several well-known training books, have popularized the DOGS test among hunting-dog enthusiasts.
Like many professionals, Duffy used his own informal test for years before the DOGS test came along. "I've always looked for the pup who looks up into my face as if to figure out what I want, and the one who uses its forepaws in ways that imitate the use of human hands." He sees these as cues to attention span and intelligence. He also prefers the pup that will retrieve or at least pursue the sock or glove he tosses. "Retrieving shows a degree of cooperativeness that's not related to breed," he has found. "The DOGS test is a methodical way for the beginner to find out the same things a professional wants to know about a pup," he concluded.
Wolters also recommends the test. Asked about the best age for testing, Wolters was emphatic: "I never test a pup over seven weeks old. My experience confirms what scientists have said for years, that the seventh week is when the pup starts to form relationships with people; this is when you should bring him home. The test will give results as early as the fifth week, if you can test and return the pup to the litter."
Since professionals find tests useful in choosing career dogs, DOGS decided to see how a test could help the prospective owner of an ideal house pet. The test was tried on 40 puppies, including Shetland sheepdogs, Samoyeds, black Labs, poodles and mutts.
The test presents each pup as an individual. Even in large litters of look-alikes, the pups quickly distinguish themselves, because they react so differently to the test items. Encouraged to come, one pup will gallop over, bounce into you, and start chewing your hand; another will crawl over, eyes downcast, and snuggle between your shoes; a third will trot over, look up, and bark. Personality quirks like these sprout up among the expected responses, and even before comparing scores, you'll know who's who in the litter.
The DOGS test is designed to compare pups within a litter, but it also is useful for choosing between breeds. Each litter had some strong trait that distinguished it from litters of other breeds. The poodles, for instance, were so attracted to people that the other breeds seemed only mildly sociable by comparison. The Shelties were the most active and quick to respond. The Labs were wonderfully calm, but somewhat stubborn. Not one Lab in the litter would relax his stiff little front legs and lie down for the test. Seeing differences like these firsthand will make your choice much clearer.
The puppy test is probably most useful, however, in revealing extreme behavior. It may spare you the heartache of investing your emotions and money in a dog who is hopeless from the start. Out of 40 pups there were two that any buyer would do well to avoid.
One ran around in circles frantically, and both reacted hysterically when restrained. This is not normal behavior, and the test improves one's chances of seeing it before it is too late.
The DOGS test will tell you what the pup's personality is like, but you also must consider what kind of a trainer you will be. Are you forceful enough to dominate an aggressive dog? Patient enough to draw out a timid one? Would you be better off with an adaptable dog that needs no special coaching to play with the children and bark at strangers? Appraising yourself and your situation honestly are as important as identifying personality traits in the puppy.
To give the test you will need the seller's cooperation because you must take the pup to an area free of people and other distractions. This can be as simple as asking to see the pups that interest you alone for a few minutes. Although it takes only five minutes to test each pup, you'll be tempted to spend more time with each of them. Carry the pup gently to the test area and save any talking or fondling until after the test.
Here's how to interpret the test. The best bet for the average owner who wants a dog to enrich his family life without becoming a demanding hobby, is a pup with three 3s in his score. This pup is likely to fit into any environment. He will be good with people of all ages and is a suitable choice for even a first-time trainer.
A pup with three or more No. 2 responses will be outgoing and dominant, and require a no-nonense, consistent trainer. He is likely to get along better in a home with older children. If the 2s are combined with 3s or 4s, the dog will be more compliant; combined with a No. 1, he is likely to be stubborn and defiant.
A pup with two or more 1s and a 2, probably will be too much for all but a professional trainer. He will be dominant and aggressive, and may tend to bite when handled physically. He is not likely to be safe around children.
A pup with two or more 4s, especially if coupled with a 5, is likely to be a very submissive dog. He will do best with gentle treatment and lots of praise. He should have a low-key trainer who will not break his spirit during a fit of temper.
A pup with two or more 5s is likely to be aloof and unsociable. He will not respond well to training because he lacks some of the normal motivations. You will not be able to trust him around children, and if he has some 1 or 2 responses, he may become aggressive under the stress of training.
If a pup's scores don't fit the above combinations neatly, or if his response to a test item is unusual, you still will know some things about him. Put simply, the first two items on the test measure sociability. A pup is sociable if he comes and follows readily. He is docile (easier to train), if he comes and follows with tail down, more assertive if he does so with tail up. You will want a pup who is sociable, but choose between docile and assertive according to your needs.
The last three items measure aggressiveness. A pup who does not struggle when restrained is being submissive; one who struggles and settles down is being somewhat assertive; and one who resists fiercely and continuously is being aggressive. Most pups won't do the same thing for all three items, but by understanding the responses, you should be able to choose a pup who is not too aggressive for your purposes.
Can the DOGS test help you find an ideal house pet? Yes. By taking a pup off by himself, watching his response to your authority, and comparing him to other puppies, you will notice differences that make your choice much easier. The questions the test asks -- "How aggressive?" and "How sociable?" -- are exactly the ones you should ask about a dog destined to be a companion and to share your home. Asking these questions before you decide can make the difference between getting a dog and getting a dog you can live with.