Puppy Evaluations

by Mar 8, 2021Curriculum

Should I have them done? How reliable are they?

Although temperament tests are widely used by breeders, the scientific research on this subject is mixed. Overall, the ability of a puppy temperament test to predict adult behavior is not well-established.

Some papers found consistency for some traits but not others [1][2]. Some found that the temperament tests alone did not have strong overall predictive power, but did have value when combined with problem-solving tests [3]. Many found that temperament tests were not at all reliable in predicting adult temperament [4][5].

Some groups recommend that temperament tests should be used more as guidance for how to address individual puppies’ weaknesses than as predictors of future behavior [6]. Others recommend that breeders’ time is better spent educating their puppy buyers to help the puppy have the best outcome as they grow in their new home [7].

Ultimately, the decision is up to the breeder. Some puppy evaluations involve low investment (in both time and cost) and could be useful data for the breeding program. Performing follow-up temperament tests when the puppies are adults could help show if the chosen test is useful as a predictive tool for the individual program.

When should I have them done?

When to have them done varies depending on the program you choose. However, all of the options presented here can be done before going home to their new family. Socialization should be the first priority, then an evaluation closer to 6-8 weeks of age.

Can I do more than one?

Yes, some breeders choose to do more than one temperament test for data collection. It can be useful to compare puppy behavioral evaluation results with adult temperament (from another evaluation or as reported by the new owners). However, the evaluations should be spaced out so the puppies aren’t overwhelmed or exhausted.  

How do I pick a good evaluator?

 This depends widely on the individual evaluation chosen. Some have a database online of available certified evaluators and some teach you how to do it yourself. For picking your evaluator/evaluation, talk to your mentors or other successful breeders in your breed or crossbreed. Breeds develop at varying speeds so it might be crucial to your breed to administer the test at a certain time. 

Keep in mind that most, if not all, tests will require a second party that has not yet met the puppies to test puppy responses to new people.

How do I interpret the results?

It is important to note that there is no “correct” or “ideal” score or evaluation as a result of a temperament test. The test results should be viewed through the lens of what the puppy buyer wants and what is most suited to their lifestyle. For example, a puppy buyer looking to compete in field sports may want a puppy with high drive, intensity, and energy, while a puppy buyer looking for an easygoing family pet would probably be best served by the opposite.

As discussed earlier, puppy evaluations are not a crystal ball. They give a general idea about the puppy to help guide home placement but are not a guarantee of future behavior. Puppy buyer education is still critical. 

What are some examples of available evaluations?

Below is a short list of readily-available puppy evaluation programs. This list is not exhaustive, just a few examples to help get you started. We recommend talking with mentors or trusted, experienced breeders to decide which, if any, evaluation is right for your program.

Behavior Checklist (BCL)

Clothier Animal Response Assessment Tool (CARAT)

Avidog Puppy Evaluation Test (APET)

Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test (PAT)

Testing Age

6-8 weeks

n/a

Breed dependent, 7-16 weeks

49 days (7 weeks)

Complexity

Very complex

Complex, odd scoring

Complex

Simple

Price

Free

Rent for 15.99, 

Buy for 24.99

$197, score sheet is free

Free

Intended Use

Large scale programs, service dogs

Any use, especially service dogs

Breeders, especially Avidog members.

Puppy buyers, breeders

Who Evaluates

Breeder scores, needs novel person

Certified evaluator

Breeder scores, needs novel person

Anyone new to litter

Successes

Informative, standardized, has shown proof of heritability

Nice graph of results, measures traits different from other tests

Knowledge that some traits can be modified, identifies areas of concern

Basic and easy, popular

Drawbacks

Very complex; not designed as a puppy evaluation

Not much info without buying the webinar

Expensive

Outdated language, especially in results

Validation

Yes, results have been predictive for some traits in guide dog programs

Not enough information

Not enough Information

None shown. This is an outdated test using some old concepts that need updating

Behavior Checklist (BCL)

This scoring system (not an assessment) was developed in collaboration with guide dog organizations. It was not specifically designed for puppy evaluations, but to describe aspects of behavior important for guide and service dogs. The scoresheet and explanations of each section (52 sections) are available on their website in multiple languages. This checklist, while thorough and standardized, requires a lot of reading and is meant more for large-scale programs to share data and track many dogs’ scores over time. Puppies are tested at 6-8 weeks of age and can be observed and scored as they participate in normal daily activities or during a standardized assessment.

Clothier Animal Response Assessment Tool (CARAT)

This assessment was developed in 2007 by Suzanne Clothier. A short list of available certified assessors can be found on their website. If you are interested in learning more about the program, the Introduction to CARAT webinar is available on their website to rent (one week for $15.99) or buy ($24.99).

Avidog Puppy Evaluation Test (APET)

This evaluation’s score sheet is available online to get a feel for the test and the full test eBook can be purchased for $197 on their website. They recommend testing puppies sometime after they are 49 days old and include breed-specific ages at which to test. They have the philosophy that some puppy traits are stable, but some can be tweaked. This test may be preferred by those already using Avidog’s other resources.

Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test (PAT)

The full test criteria and instructions are available for free on their website. This evaluation recommends testing puppies at 49 days old. Some of the language used in the evaluation is outdated.

Summary

There are a few different options for puppy evaluations that test for different aspects of personality. Some are extremely detailed and will take a long time, while others are shorter. Before using a test, read through the criteria to make sure they are relevant to your program. Take care in choosing an evaluator. If they aren’t certified in the chosen test (if certification is available), make sure that they understand the criteria that will be tested. Remember to keep good records of the scores you receive and follow up with the puppies later in life to see how useful the evaluation was in predicting adult temperament or personality.

 

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