Oz Working Dogs - Assistance & Working Dog Equipment

For assistance/service dog equipment, as well as guide, therapy, detection, search & rescue, police and dogs in training equipment check out my website http://www.ozworkingdogs.com.au - I make and sell vests, capes, belly bands, harnesses, handles and more... and will post to the world!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Temperament testing over, a bit sad

Pre pickup 3 weeks 5 days old

NOTE: If you would like a copy of the test I used to test these pups, please follow this link, thanks!

The temperament testing on the three boys is done, and long story short, it didn't go well, and we are going to have to wait at least another 3 1/2 weeks on top of the date we expected to bring home a puppy, to actually find our Assistance Dog prospect. Basically a month from now. Siiiigh.

Getting there
We arrived at the breeders and I got my testing kit together. The boy puppies were outside in a exercise pen when we pulled up and I saw at once how much they had changed. A lot bigger and they were playing well together. The weather was pretty unfriendly though - windy, cold and spitting rain - and the breeder came out to welcome us and we talked and decided to test the puppies inside the house. As we were going in, a very loud motorcycle went by the property (they live on a small hobby farm) and I watched the puppies carefully to see how they reacted. Two were fine with the noise, but one did cringe a bit. As she had previously told me that there were two possibles, this tallied. However she did say, whilst we were talking, that she wasn't sure that there was even one for me in this lot.

So, she brought the puppies in one by one, to where I sat on a chair in her living room. In addition to the testing procedure being new to them, they hadn't been inside the house before, so hadn't been on carpet at all, nor had they been much apart from their littermates. I used those extra stressors as indicators of resilience to new situations and stress. We used their microchip numbers to differentiate them, just the last four digits, as they weren't wearing collars or anything.

Puppy 1
Breeder came in put the puppy on my lap. I could instantly see that this pup was scared. He was trembling a bit, and basically just froze in a semi crouch. The first test I did was to basically see how he reacted to being near me, and to see eventually what pattern of behaviour he exhibited. This first puppy, no matter how much I stroked him, cuddling him close, just froze in this standing position and didn't put any weight on me. I put him on the ground, continued to stroke, and he was just totally frozen. So, not going well.

Next we tried a recall. My husband moved him a metre or two away, and I tried calling him to me (pup pup pup!!! clapping hands allowed). The poor thing was shivering and frozen. This is part of the working dog PAWS test.

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Next I tried to get him to follow my husband (was worried he'd be scared of my crutches), frozen again.

I skipped a bunch of tests, because I could see it was likely useless to follow what I had devised, and scrunched up a sheet of paper into a ball, and threw it in front of him - he couldn't care less, he was too scared.

So testing on Puppy 1 was aborted. In my opinion, this pup would be completely unsuitable for an Assistance/Service Dog. Even as a pet this dog would need an awful lot of socialisation work. If he wasn't carefully managed I could see behavioural problems in his future. Of course, he could be going through a fear period, so it is very hard to say. However, you have to go with what you see, and what I saw was completely and totally unsuitable as any kind of working dog. I felt sorry for the poor pup.

Puppy 2
As soon as the breeder put this puppy on my lap I knew he was different. He settled down, let his body weight rest fully on me, and his little chin on my arm. He seemed to like the stroking. When I put him down in front of me and continued stroking he stayed there, body loose, leaning against me a bit, and seemed to still enjoy the stroking.

I let him explore the room a bit, as it was new, and he seemed to want to - unlike poor Puppy 1. I was cheered to see quite a bit of tail wagging coupled with a nice relaxed posture. This was good to see in a brand new environment away from his littermates.

So, I then tried the recall. He definitely liked the attention, he was wagging a lot, stretched out on the floor in that 'creeping towards you' type of posture, almost a play bow... but no matter what I did, he wouldn't come to me. And I tried several times throughout the testing. So that was a shame. He didn't solicit attention like I would have wanted him to.

He didn't follow my husband either, seemed to be a little scared of his feet, and shied away a little. Of course they are little at that age, but so are all puppies, so I couldn't really excuse it.

He was interested in the paper ball, but just watched it carefully when it was thrown. There is a high correlation between retrieval instinct and good Assistance work so this unfortunately told against him.

I dragged an old towel on a string in a jerking 'prey' kind of manner across the floor to see what he would do - whether he would be scared, or even like it. He liked it, and with some encouragement, engaged with it, and eventually bit and held on. Good Puppy 2!

I had a squeaky little rope toy I'd bought for the testing, to test what they'd do a) with an interesting sound b) whether they would interact and play tug, an important Assistance skill, and c) test persistence, what will it do to get at this toy under my feet. Unfortunately he wasn't interested. Not all that interested in the sound, no tug, and I didn't bother putting it under my foot.

After this lack of interest in playing, coupled with repeated failures to interact with us - he'd always veer off.... we aborted testing here. Whilst he was definitely more active, and quite waggy, I thought judging by what I saw infront of me, he would be unsuitable as an Assistance Dog, although no where near as bad as the first puppy. He would make a fine pet. My husband liked this puppy, kept on insisting he was just having a bad day. I think it was because of the way he went for the towel.

Puppy 3
This puppy started out like Puppy 2. He sank into my lap nicely. But then he turned around in my lap to look at me, showing me his beautiful dark little eyes several times in quiet contemplation. That was great! Giving me eye contact like that shows a good amount of confidence for his young age. I patted him on the ground, and he was happy to receive the attention, but as soon as I stopped he was off to explore. Perhaps a little too independent - and that impression continued throughout testing this pup.

Within a couple of minutes in the room, he was a bouncy and quite adventurous pup. He ran and bounced around, where the second puppy really only walked.

First off I tried the recall. With a lot of encouragement and a bunch of hesitance he made it to my hand, and I got a little lick. Well done Puppy 3! While it needed a lot of encouragement, it did better than the other two.

We didn't bother with the follow. I've decided I don't like that test, at least not in the environment we did it in.

He didn't go for the towel, and he was even a touch hesitant/fearful about it.

But he did go for the paper ball, picking it up several times - although never bringing it back to the thrower which would have been perfect. We rolled a tennis ball in front of him but he wasn't interested. Too big perhaps.

He went for the squeaky toy, picking it up, and chewing on it. He wouldn't engage in tug, but it was good to see him picking up the squeaky one.

I did a hearing sensitivity test by banging the ends of two soft drink cans together. He passed with flying colours - he couldn't have cared less... just looked at us for a second (he did hear it!). No fear at all, and that's an important test.

We tried his food drive by giving him a couple of bits of dried liver (as he will be clicker trained this is important), he didn't seem to be madly interested, but I guess it was a totally new food.

I tried clicking my clicker, as some dogs are afraid of the sound, there wasn't a problem at all.

My husband threw his arms around as if he was having a fit right in front of the puppy - puppy didn't care (the idea is you meet a huge variety of people when you have a dog doing public access work, the dog needs to be able to accept all sorts of people without blinking).

These tests come from a mixture of the Volhard tests, the PAWS test and of my own devising.

There were a few more I wanted to do: put three upended plastic cups in front of the puppy, one with a treat underneath, and see if he knew to knock over the cup to get the treat (to test intelligence and problem solving), slowly opening an umbrella near the puppy to test his reaction to unexpected visual events, can give rise to fear (tests fear management) and finally, a gentle pinch test on the webbing of one of the puppies paws (just to see if he is particularly sensitive).

We stopped there and started talking. The puppy had retreated to a corner and was lying down looking tired. I said I wanted to come back in the morning and do a few more tests, and that at the moment there was possibly potential, but I wanted to try again. Then she had some upsetting news for us. When I contacted her, another had already contacted her about getting a male from this litter, specifically someone in Western Australia (a long way away) who wanted a show dog - and I did know this, but we hadn't discussed it for a long while. This person from WA wanted the breeder to choose the best show potential for her. The breeder told us that in her opinion, physically the best show males were Puppies 1 and 3... but that show dogs need temperament too, and so really, she should be getting 3. She pointed out that she was pulled between us though, and she didn't really know what to do. I did know that I didn't have absolute priority, but she had talked about 'bumping me up' in priority, and I think we just both hoped there would be two puppies that had potential.

Puppy 3 hadn't been perfect, his recall had been so hesitant, and I would have loved to have seen more enthusiasm with the toys - tug etc, returning balls. It would have been a lot of work to try to turn him into an Assistance Dog, assuming he hadn't improved on the day of second testing after getting used to the room a bit. However I would say possible potential as Assistance Dog - although who knows how his personality would have changed throughout his development, for better or worse. For my first pup to train I would have liked to see him score highly in a temperament test like this, to see him confident and soliciting attention.


In the next breath the breeder talked about a friend of hers who had a litter of 11 puppies, 8 of whom were boys. I know of this other breeder and have checked out her dogs before. They also have fantastic hip and elbow scores (the bitch has a 1:1!) , and have a very low cancer rate. Also the sire of the litter is one of our original breeders own dogs. Unfortunately they are in the Hunter Valley, about a 6.5 hour drive from here, but it is possible she would bring them to Sydney for us.

So at this point I did the right thing. I said I wouldn't come back and retest the next day, and that Puppy 3 belonged to this person in WA. I had been quite inadvertently putting a lot of pressure on the breeder by possibly wanting Puppy 3 - if only to retest - who wanted to please me, but also wanted to do right by this person in WA who she had to choose for. Of course I was pretty upset - we all were ... teary even, but I am feeling better now. Sad, but out of 8 males, there MUST be what I see as my ideal prospect.

This is a photo of Chandon while he was still a (big) puppy.
He has grown in height and depth since then into quite an
 impressive dog.
We did have a nice end to our visit. The sire of the litter we are likely moving to was there, so we met him. He was absolutely gorgeous, name of Chandon..... full of youth and vigor, bolting around the yard. My husband was captivated! He also has a strong retrieval instinct, so let's hope he passes it on, but maybe with a touch less fire! After seeing him I know why the dog crates I got delivered last week are so big though!!!

It was a learning experience. It is interesting how quickly you can tell the ones you definitely don't want. I hope poor Puppy 1 goes to an understanding home. It is also interesting to see how much difference there is in puppies even at that young age. They are light years apart. Now I have to be patient. This other litter is due to go home on the 22 of September, what an age to wait!!!!


  1. Though you didn't find the puppy you wanted in the first litter, what a great chance it was to practice your puppy suitability testing, and assessing of response. You really are starting out well. I do know of a couple of people in Aus that are owner-trainers, and have successfully had their dogs certified for public access.

  2. Thanks a lot. I've done a lot of work to make sure I am starting out right. It was good to be able to practice, although I would have much rathered find a perfect pup in that litter! Good to hear there are a few other owner trainers out there.... somewhere.....