How accurate is temperament testing in puppies?
Thirty years ago, the US Department of Defense was using a puppy raising program to develop their military dogs. One of the procedures they used was temperament testing. The concept caught on with major service dog organizations, and soon private breeders were following suit. After all, if their mentors tested for puppy temperaments, it had to be included in best practices. Right?
Do puppies have personality tendencies from birth? Hmm, good question. Different breeds certainly do have their own traits. Border Collies, for instance, are innate herders. They need room to exercise and something to round up, like sheep, cattle or geese, even rabbits. Hounds want to run and aren’t suited to apartment living. Bloodhounds are excellent trackers because of their sensitive noses.
Nature vs nurture
Expect breed characteristics to shape a puppy’s general outlook. For instance, a CavaDoodle puppy is a combination of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Miniature Poodle, and Labrador. Our goal is to select for the best qualities of each breed. However, each individual puppy in a litter will develop his own particular personality. How much is hereditary and how much is because of environment?
Many studies of this question have been done. Ji Khalsa’s mission is to help develop responsible breeders (of whatever breeds). And she does intensive research. Ji wrote of several large-sample studies in her Midwoofery blog post of June 2020, Is Temperament Testing Really Worth the Effort? But the subject really has 3 follow up questions.
- If temperament testing isn’t helpful, then how can we predict?
- Can testing for temperament be harmful to puppies?
- How can we make sure that a puppy develops the temperament that we want?
First, begin training early
Our puppies at Maple Hill Doodles begin ENS training (Early Neurological Stimulation) when they are 3 days old. Derived from the DoD ‘super puppy program’ mentioned above, ENS gently and briefly, once a day, introduces each puppy to situations unlike anything he would normally encounter on his own. After all actions are completed, the puppy goes back to being with his mom and littermates, just as usual.
Coupled with loving daily interaction, these gentle stresses at the neonatal stage make a lifelong impact. They enable puppies to mature into healthier dogs that handle life’s stresses better. Our puppies live with us in the house, so they’re used to all the normal activities of family life. They are unfazed by the vacuum cleaner, dishwasher, radio, thunderstorms, kids and other animals (we have chickens).
For a more inclusive explanation, here’s a seminar video on ENS by Dr. Carmen Battaglia.
These methods have shown that they help to produce dogs who have a greater ability to adapt to change during their lifetimes. They are more disease resistant, healthier overall, and have fewer personality problems. Rarely do we see a Maple Hill puppy who is fearful or abnormally destructive, because they are so interested in everything else that’s going on around them. There’s too much fun that they might miss!