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How can you tell if that adorable puppy will turn into a well-adjusted adult dog with a happy and confident personality? The concept of puppy testing began in the 1950s when guide dog trainers started to test puppies to see if they would make good guide dogs for the blind when they grew up.
Testing a puppy with an experienced trainer makes sense if you are looking for a particular kind of dog, such as one that will herd livestock or run agility trials. You can perform a simplified version of puppy testing at the shelter or breeder’s to determine if your new puppy will make a good family pet.
Make sure the puppies are over 7 weeks old before testing, and test each puppy alone, without distractions like other puppies or familiar people around. Here are the key elements to check out when testing a puppy:
Following: Call the puppy to you while standing a short distance away. Social, people-oriented puppies will come immediately. Independent-minded dogs will ignore you or wander away. Fearful puppies will run away.
Restraint: Gently place the puppy on her back and hold her still for several seconds. Docile puppies will remain still and relaxed, fearful ones will be still but stiff and unrelaxed, trainable puppies will wiggle and then lie still, stubborn pups will struggle the whole time, and dominant ones will try to bite. Watch the puppy after she gets up. A well-adjusted puppy will recover quickly and start playing, but a fearful dog will show signs of anxiousness and mistrust.
Sensitivity to touch: Press firmly but gently on the puppy’s paw near the toes. Sensitive puppies will react immediately (this should be taken into account if you have young children). More easy-going puppies will normally react after several seconds. Some puppies will have no reaction at all, indicating a high pain threshold.
Sensitivity to noise: Make a loud, sudden noise behind the puppy. Fearful dogs will cringe or run away. More well-adjusted puppies will either show curiosity and investigate, or ignore the sound. Puppies that ignore loud noises should be further tested for deafness.
Retrieving and curiosity: Toss a ball on the floor and see how the puppy reacts. Does he go after it and start playing or bring it back to you? More trainable dogs will have some instinct for retrieving. You can check prey drive by dragging a cloth across the floor. A puppy with a strong prey drive will attack the cloth, biting and shaking it. This might be good for a future hunting dog, but for a family pet, look for a puppy that follows the moving object with curiosity, but does not attack it. A fearful pup will avoid the cloth.
Energy: Stand back and observe the puppy’s behavior. Is she running around nonstop? Does she seem nervous or calm? Some breeds have higher energy levels than others, but a good rule of thumb for your future family pet is to look for relaxed and calm behavior over hyperactivity or shyness.
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