If you will be picking out a puppy from a litter, whether it’s a purebred pup that you are buying or a mixed breed you are rescuing from an unwanted litter, you can help assure that you get the cream of the crop by using this five point temperament test.
Generally, you will not be able to bring your pup home until it is eight weeks old. But, if you have the opportunity to visit the pups and pick one out early on, plan on visiting the litter when they are about four to six weeks old and apply the test to each puppy in the litter. Ideally, you can test the pups at four weeks, then again at six weeks to see if the top puppies are still passing the test. If the top pups who breezed through the five point test suddenly fail, then it may be a sign that the entire litter is suffering from health problems and you may want to reconsider adopting any of the puppies.
The Five Point Temperament Test for Picking Out a Puppy
1. Observe the interaction of the entire litter. Sit back and spend five minutes just watching the litter, without touching any of the puppies. Any pups that are pushing other pups out of the way, hovering over them, or climbing on top of them are pups that are dominant and rebellious. These pups may be hard to control and might constantly test your authority. Any pups that are has made its way to a corner and has no interest in interacting with the other pups is probably timid and nervous. A nervous pup may be very hard to train. You want the middle of the road puppy. The perfect pup is one that interacts with the other pups in a calm manner or is somewhat playful, but not a bully.
2. Observe the litter’s reaction to loud noise. Clap your hands hard above the litter and watch the reaction of the puppies. You do not want a puppy that runs from a loud noise or squints and lowers its head. That is a nervous pup. You also do not want a puppy that growls when you clap or lunges forward at you. That is an aggressive pup. A puppy that does nothing might have a hearing problem or could be completely deaf, so don’t pick that one unless you are ready to care for a special needs dog. You want the puppy that looks up at you with an inquisitive look and maybe cocks its head a bit.
3. Observe each pup’s reaction to being cradled. One by one, pick up each puppy and cradle it in your arms as you would a baby, with the puppy laying on it’s back and belly up. If the puppy struggles to turn over or wants to get away, that puppy is either too aggressive or too timid. You want a puppy that is relaxed and lets you hold them in the cradle position with no struggle.
4. Observe each pup’s reaction to being touched. Remove a pup from the litter and place it on your lap or on the floor. Touch its ears, nose, tail. Hold its paws in your hand. Massage the pup’s back. If the pup does not respond well to touch, meaning it bites, snaps, growls, shivers, runs away or whimpers, then do not take that puppy home. You want the puppy that remains alert and playful while you touch it.
5. Observe the litter’s inquisitive behavior. Hold a squeaky toy above the litter and squeak it a few times. Then toss it into the pen. If a puppy runs away from the toy, that puppy is too nervous. You want your puppy to be curious about the toy and even go up to it and sniff it or play with it.
If you fall in love with a puppy that does not pass the five point temperament test, do not let that stop you from adopting it. Just be aware that the puppy may need special training or handling so it can grow up to be a well mannered dog.
Source: Dibra, Bash (1999). Dog Speak. New York: Simon & Schuster.