written by Tina M. Barber

reprinted with permission from the  March/July 1998 SSDCA, Inc.  Newsletter

Download a printable version of this article.

Every breeder guarantees it, or at least insists that their puppies have "wonderful" temperaments...but does anyone really know what they are talking about? The dictionary states: "The manner of thinking, behaving, or reacting characteristic of a specific person."

Not much to go on here so let's look at personality: "The pattern of collective character, behavioral, temperamental, emotional, and mental traits of a person."

Now let's ask the million dollar question, IS TEMPERAMENT/PERSONALITY controlled by "GENETICS" ( same as hair/eye color, height potential, hand size, etc.) *OR* does it strictly depend on your environment, life experiences, etc? The answer is BOTH!

Genetically puppies and children both have a variety of "inherited" instinctual traits/talents. Example: a baby does not have to "learn" to cry, nevertheless his future behavior will be determined by how his parents react to it! It is NOT the fact that he/she "cries" that spoils the child, it is the parents' constant response to his/her demands! Let's focus on TWO examples of such "traits" both in puppies and children, along with the possible outcome from two very different approaches.

Air scent ability

This puppy has an inherited "talent"

Owner 1 starts at 7 weeks of age, conditioning this puppy both physically & mentally toward his future as a famous SAR dog! The puppy loves the work (and the attention) and grows up strong & proud of his abilities! His owner continues to reward his efforts, as he conquers each new goal. What a magnificent relationship they are building. This dog will save many lives in the future!

Owner 2 does not understand WHY his puppy dumps the garbage, digs holes in the yard, or knocks the candles off the window sill! He is furious, constantly yelling at his puppy! When taking a walk in the park, his pup "picks up a scent" and heads for it instantly, his owner thinks that his dog is being rebellious, so he chases him down & gives him a sharp "correction." This dog will end up frustrated, and maybe even die in some cold dog "shelter." His owner is convinced that his puppy was born with a "Demon seed" and must be chained for life, or destroyed!

Musical Talent

This child has an inherited "talent"

This little girl has a voice like an angel! By the time she was 8 she was already playing the violin, and the piano! She "makes up" her own songs, and then manages to play then, even though she has never had any formal music lessons!

Parents #1 encourage her talents, they find the best teachers to send her to. She goes to nursing homes and sings for the elderly bringing joy to their lives! Someday she will go to Europe and perform at some famous Opera houses!

Parents #2: Her father wanted a boy, he is very disappointed. Even though she is very petite, he wants her to be a football player! No matter that she is a girl, he swears he will fight for her rights! When the boys knock her over, he tells her to stop acting like a sissy, and get back on the field! She realizes that she can’t live up to her fathers expectations, so she turns to drugs. Soon she overdoses ending her misery.

Having unrealistic expectations from a child or puppy can lead to many unexpected problems! We have no choice about the children God gives us, all we can do is to nurture their talent. It is our responsibility to provide a sound home, proper discipline, etc. Babies don’t arrive with an instruction manual...but puppies do! A puppy’s inherited instinctual traits/talents CAN be determined at a very young age! At Shiloh Shepherds (kennel) I have developed a series of "temperament tests" that help me to properly evaluate each individual puppy’s potential. As explained earlier, it is up to the owner to develop the positive traits and take full control over any negative ones.

Our puppies are put through 9 specific tests. An experienced breeder can determine volumes about each puppy’s future "potential" based on these tests, as well as the close relationships each breeder has with the entire litter. Therefore, I would like to reprint the entire article I wrote 20 years ago.

Puppy Temperament Testing

Written by Tina M. Barber for the NASA News in 1978

Although testing puppies can be of great value in helping you understand what type of dogs they will grow up to be, it’s not enough!! Actually its only one-third of the solution. When testing, pups can sometimes give off "false" readings due to distractions. If the pup is cold, hungry, sleepy, feeling foolish, or possibly needs to eliminate, this can lead to some misinformation in the test results. What we do at Shiloh is to test the pups marking all the results on their sheet and then we add the "daily" results we see such as their actions during feeding time, their behavior towards their littermates at play, their attitude towards visitors to the kennel, etc. All these facts are added up and then judged against the actual results of their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. This gives you a much better picture of what the pup will be like when he matures!

We also discourage people from performing the tests themselves.. .as each person is different and will get a different idea of exactly how each of the tests should be done. This, in turn, can lead to large degrees of variation in the final results -making the entire test of no effect! Even though I plan on trying to explain the MAIN parts of the tests we run, the scores sometimes come from "gut" feelings as well as the actual test results. For some reason, I seem to be able to "sense" things about certain pups that I just can’t explain on a piece of paper...I JUST KNOW! Maybe it comes from spending 16 hours per day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, for over 25 years living and working with these dogs.

Now let’s start the testing!!

In a strange area for the pup, and with a helper to do some of the more complex tests for me (plus charts and markers). We now begin -- never more than 4 pups at a time. We take the first pup and place him on his back with my hand on his chest, then proceed to count to ten slowly. If I reach ten before he starts to fight to get up, he fell asleep!! Most pups will start to struggle between 3 and 5 and that’s a good MEDIUM. Pups that hold still past 5 will be very submissive -- SOFT. Pups that start to struggle as soon as they hit the ground will end up as HARD adults! Very simple and it WORKS!

General testing for a good companion

In order to determine more information about their personalities, we have devised several tests that give us information about specific area of their temperament...they will be explained individually:

1) Human interaction: The helper picks up a pup (not affectionately -- just normally) and walks away to a secluded area (about 20 ft), and places the pup on the ground (no talking), and then walks away about 10 ft. We want to see if:

a) The puppy follows immediately, then he will be a very willing worker!

b) The pup stays to check things out -- then realizing he is alone, he runs up to the helper, then he will be very easy to socialize and has a human dependence.

c) The pup looks, sees the helper leave, and acts like "the heck with you" and proceeds to check out the area he is in, this shows that he is CONFIDENT and SELF-INDULGENT; he will be able to take care of himself without too much need for human companionship

2 ) Submission/Dominance The helper now kneels down on the ground, claps his hands, and calls "puppy, puppy..."

a) If the pup pays attention quickly-- sees the helper and runs up happily, then he is a CONFIDENT, SOCIABLE, PERFECT DOG!

b) If the pup hears, sees the helper, thinks about it, and then slowly "slinks" toward her, then he is a submissive, obedient pup, but lacks the solid "hello world" attitude a shepherd should have.

c) If the pup hears and sees but ignores the call, he is a DOMINANT, "chip on the shoulder, I don’t need you, I’ve got better things to do" type pup that will be very difficult to train!

3) SociabiIity: The tester now walks up to the pup, kneels and pets the pup, talking softly, to watch the reaction

a) If the pup jumps all over the helper, licking and playing, then he is happy to accept human companionship and will thrive on praise!

b) If the pup prefers to chew on the helper’s hands, clothes, feet, or whatever, then he is a dominant pup and is trying to take control of the situation. This pup will be harder to train!

c) If the pup ignores the human gesture of affection and prefers to sniff the ground or run off and play, then he is very dominant (HARD) and will not accept authority well.

4) Elevation/Foregiveness: The helper now stands up, picks up the pup (with one hand on either side of the belly, so all four feet are fully off the ground.) It should look like the pup is "standing on air." The helper holds this position to the count of 5 and then places the pup on the ground by her feet and walks away slowly, encouraging the pup to follow:

  1. If the pup holds very still while held up in the air and seems relaxed, then follows immediately when placed on the gournd, then he will grow into a good loving SUBMISSIVE adult that you can make a mistake with when training, and he’ll bounce right back! This dog will be very easy to work with!
  2. If the pup struggles when held up, yet still is willing to follow the helper after being placed on the ground, then he will be a bit more dominant but easy to work with. This type of pup is usually great for schutzhund training—he’s not happy about being in a situation he can’t control, but he’s willing to deal with it!
  3. The pup that struggles, bites and fights while he’s held up in the air is either scared to death or very HARD and DOMINANT. Watch carefully when he is placed on the ground; if he recovers quickly and tries to attack the helper’s feet, he’s a super HARD Dog! If he cowers and refuses to make friends, he’s scared and has no confidence.

The results from all these tests combined with the orginal restrain tests we did first, can tell you a lot about the kind of adult this pup will grow up to be. For more specific results, we can continue and do;

The Shutzhund Test

  1. Retrieve drive: The helper now holds the pup right next to her and shows it the "toy." We usually use a crumpled cigarette pack or small chew toy. The tester gets the pup’s attention, then throws the toy a few feet in front of her (not too far—2-3 feet is perfect).

  1. If the pup runs out, grabs the toy and comes back when called—he’s terrific! The pup will be a snap to train and will work his heart out for you—he’s the type of dog that you "show" and he does!

  2. If the pup runs up and grabs the paper and drops it—but he’s still willing to return then you may have problems with the retrieving for schutzhund, but he will be a very willing worker and although you might have to show him twice, he will always TRY to please you!

  3. The pup that runs up, grabs the toy, looks back at you, and then runs off to play is a very INDEPENDENT pup that doesn’t need anyone bossing him around! He thinks this world is here to serve him! He’s going to grow up doing his own thing, and if you try severe training methods on him, he will "rebel" and balk every step of the way!

  1. Gunshyness: This is a very simple test, the helper stands above the pup with two pots and clangs them together!

  1. The pup that doesn’t react to the sound and continues to play is—very Gun-Sure!

  2. The pup that "startles" for a second but quickly recovers and goes on playing, is gun-sure and confident. He won’t have any problems in the field!

  3. The pup that "yelps," "cowers," or tries to escape, is gunshy and can’t deal with loud noises—this pup will also have trouble in severe thunderstorms, etc.

  1. Pain Threshold: The helper now places a pup in her lap and with her right hand, she places her thumb and index finger between the puppy’s toes and presses slowly, counting from 1-10 as she applies more pressure—with 1 being very light pressure and 10 being very hard.

  1. If the pup yelps before you reach #3—he will be a very sensitive pup and will need very MILD training methods to bring him to his full potential.

  2. If he reacts violently between 4-7 he will be a confident pup that falls in the medium pain sensitivity scale and can be easily trained with mild corrections, although he can take between 4-7 he will be a confident pup that falls in the medium pain sensitivity scale and can be easily trained with mild corrections, although he can take a harder one once in a whileThe pup that scores 8-10 has a very HIGH pain threshold and needs a FIRM handler to bring the best out in him! Yet, he’s the best for most schutzhund work because he can take a good fight from the decoy and come back for more!

  1. Fighting Drive: We do two tests for this—first the helper takes a pop can full of stones and rolls it past the pup, then the helper takes a towel or burlap sack and plays "tug-o-war."

  1. If the pup sees the can roll past him but ignores it, he doesn’t possess much of a drive and will probably not play with the rag too quickly! He may pick the towel up in his mouth but let go right away—he doesn’t have the "killer instinct" because he probably loves and trusts the world too much to fight with it.

  2. The pup that runs up to the can to investigate shows good interest, and he will probably play with the rag for awhile, but really doesn’t have his heart in it. This pup is the best to train for schutzhund because he won’t be likely to be "sleeve happy," and he will definitely be more CONTROLLABLE!

  3. The pup that runs up to the can and attacks it, has a lot of drive. He will grab that rag and tug and pull and growl and try to kill it—if the helper lets go of the tug, he will grab it and run off with it proudly! This pup has tons of drive and is great for schutzhund with a FIRM, HARD handler!

  1. The Maze: We now take the pup into a specific area where we set up an "obstacle" course with four sides and one door. The front board is no higher than 18 inches, but the pup has to go over to the right side of it in order to find the door so he can get out! The pup is placed in the corner of the MAZE, and the helper stands back about 10 feet, enthusiastically calling "here puppy, puppy, puppy" and clapping his hands.

  1. If the pup looks around, realizes he’s trapped, and starts to cry, he lacks confidence and SELF-MOTIVATION. He will grow up to depend on his people to show him everything!

  2. If the pup starts to run around looking for a way out, then he shows HIGH INTELLIGENCE and will grow up to be a thinker and doer! If he finds the door and gets out—that’s even better! This guy is super-smart and will have no problem in gaining control over the obstacles in his life!

  3. If the pup fights, struggles, and tries to climb out over the board in the back, he’s going to face life "head-on" and will turn out to be a lot like a "bull in a china shop." He’s definitely got CONFIDENCE and DETERMINATION—although he prefers to use BRAWN over BRAIN!

    Two Different Reactions Going through the Maze
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    tt5a.jpg (12436 bytes) tt6a.jpg (14195 bytes)
    tt7a.jpg (19644 bytes) tt8a.jpg (14846 bytes)

We also have a few other tests when checking a pup’s ability for search and rescue work, or for herding, etc., but these main 10 tests will tell you everything you need to know about the type of ADULT this pup will grow into. PROPER ENVIRONMENT AND TRAINING TECHNIQUES can then be incorporated to bring the pup to his FULL POTENTIAL!

* Please note: There’s no such thing as "good" or "bad" temperament in these tests—we are only concerned with which dog is RIGHT or WRONG for your SPECIFIC NEEDS!

Although Temperament Testing can help us a great deal in determining each INDIVIDUAL puppy’s future potential, it is also VERY IMPORTANT to understand each puppy’s dominant and recessive genes, so we can continue to IMPROVE our stock! Without a basic understanding of the most critical genetic factors in our breed, we will end up creating a lot of problems for ourselves as well as everyone else!

Originally written by Tina M. Barber for the Shiloh Shepherd (Kennel) Newsletter; reprinted and updated for the SSDCA Newsletter, March/June 1998, reprinted in the Shiloh Shepherd Learning Center, 1999.