The Volhard Puppy Aptitude Testing and our Thoughts…

WHAT IS THE “VOLHARD” PUPPY APTITUDE TEST?

Years ago this test was developed by an individual (Wendy Volhard) that felt it could predict the temperament of a puppy or dog by assessing the litter at a young age. Just so you get an idea of what it entails, here is an overview: (Source)

“Top Dog Tips: The ideal age to test the puppy is at 49 days of age when the puppy is neurologically complete and it has the brain of an adult dog. With each passing day after the 49th day the responses will be tainted by prior learning.

Later on in the early 60’s more tests were developed to determine if pups could be tested for dominance and submission. These tests determined that it was indeed possible to predict future behavioral traits of adult dogs by evaluating puppies at 49 days of age. Testing before or after that age, effected the accuracy of the results, depending on the amount of time before or after the 49th day.

We took these tests, added some of our own, and put together what is now known as the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test, or PAT. PAT uses a scoring system from 1-6 and consists of ten tests. The tests are done consecutively, and in the order listed. Each test is scored separately and interpreted on its own merits. The scores are not averaged, and there are no winners or losers. The entire purpose is to select the right puppy for the right home?”

I won’t lie, after 35 years of producing litters in our breed, I’ve always found this test to be a bit amusing, and perhaps incomplete as you read in my comments below.

My first note is that 16 WEEKS IS THE AGE OF FULL DEVELOPMENT OF PERSONALITY AND BEHAVIOR! At 7 weeks old, they are not fully psychologically developed like a full grown dog yet.

ALSO- This is not BREED specific at all. If you want a guard dog (one of the result types), a Labrador is probably not the best choice. Not only do we know our BREED, we know our LINES. I have people say they’d be looking for the puppy with this or that score in the litter. And when I look at those score options, that’s the whole litter, ha.

The Tests Consist of the Following:

  1. Social Attraction – degree of social attraction to people, confidence or dependence.
    This can be helpful when looking for a hunting dog or service dog, but I have not found this to follow through when a stranger walks up to my puppy and starts doing all of these “things” to it. They may get nervous. My problem with this is that my litters react differently with me at 8 weeks than with strangers who are just meeting them for the first time. It takes them about 5-10 minutes to settle and concentrate on YOU.
  2. Following – willingness to follow a person.
    Again, if you are a stranger, there may be a hesitancy at first, depending on how the adult or child approaches the pup—I’ve had people literally scare my pups doing this test—it should not be a forced thing.
  3. Restraint – degree of dominant or submissive tendency, and ease of handling in difficult situations.
    Most people roll my pups over on their belly because they’ve been told to do this to see if they “submit”, except the MAJORITY of people do this the wrong way and no puppy reacts the way they *think* it should . If you know dog packs and behavior, that is a vulnerable position to be put in. If you are a stranger and abruptly roll the pup over onto his back, it’s like you just pinned him down as his mother would do to scold or correct. I don’t agree with this method and have seen absolute fails by doing it the wrong way, then people assume it’s indicative that the puppy isn’t the temperament they’re looking for. Our advice? Gently cradle the pup in your arms on his back, to see if they relax in your arms and make eye contact. THAT is a good sign!
  4. Social Dominance – degree of acceptance of social dominance by a person.
    Again, remember, you are new—give the pup time to warm up to you—be careful how you dominate—if you go about it wrong or without our permission, we will have to ask you to leave our home as we are VERY protective about how people handle our pups. One wrong move at an impressionable stage can imprint on a dog forever! Please be gentle with pups when choosing—it will help your pup and everyone else who is getting a pup from the litter—it builds TRUST.
  5. Elevation – degree of accepting dominance while in a position of no control, such as at the veterinarian or groomer.
    To test this, the test suggests lifting the puppy up and suspending mid-air for 30 seconds to assess their reaction. Again, not opposed to this overall, but again, be GENTLE. That puppy does need to feel supported and not hanging mid-air. So far, I’ve never had a pup not tolerate this when done right.
  6. Retrieving – degree of willingness to do something for you. Together with Social Attraction and Following a key indicator for ease or difficulty in training.
    This can take patience and time—please– don’t expect a pup to retrieve and bring back on the first try. It’s all training, and yes, it’s a natural instinct, but it will come along as you begin to play with them more. If you start rattling off words, commands and phrases they don’t know—they will fail the test every time. And possibly walk away from you! LOL
  7. Touch Sensitivity – degree of sensitivity to touch and a key indicator to the type of training equipment.
    Our pups are socialized to different textures, feels, handling, etc. You will receive an extensive checklist from us on how to continue socialization after you leave our house to continue through the NEXT 8 weeks in your home!
  8. Sound Sensitivity – degree of sensitivity to sound, such as loud noises or thunderstorms.
    Again, you can ruin a dog by doing this incorrectly. I had a woman walk in the puppy room and abruptly drop her clipboard so loudly on my basement floor, that all the pups crouched (naturally!). I left the room because I was so mad at her (and had to cry for a minute)—she did this without warning or permission! Loud sounds should be introduced slowly and gradually. I removed her immediately and did some positive cuddling and trust-building.
  9. Sight Sensitivity – degree of response to a moving object, such as chasing bicycles, children or squirrels. The tester ties a string around a bath towel and jerks it across the floor, two feet away from the puppy.
    Ok so most lab puppies are going to probably chase the towel or try to play with it haha. I’m not sure how this indicates a motivation to chase bicycles or children. Do puppies like to chase? Yes. Can you train them not to chase a child? Yes.
  10. Stability – degree of startle response to a strange object.
    They suggest opening and umbrella and placing it on the floor to see how the puppy reacts to it, in order to assess its stability apparently. Again, like with number 8, you have to continue exposing your puppy to different things, sights, sounds, etc. to continue socializing beyond what can be done with a whole litter. They may all react a little differently to the an umbrella (most of ours at least will be curious or try to play with it haha), but I don’t think I would jump to conclusions about their whole temperament based on that act.

So overall… Do we do this test? No. We know each puppy’s temperament from observing them those first few weeks of their life, and also by knowing the parents and grandparents, and so on. For more information on this, see our youtube video on “How to Choose a Puppy.”

And maybe we’re a bit soured to this because we’ve seen so many people walk in and think they are experts on temperament testing after reading this, and yet make so many wrong steps in trying. One tip that I do appreciate in the document is this:

“During testing maintain a positive, upbeat and friendly attitude toward the puppies. Try to get each puppy to interact with you to bring out the best in him or her. Make the test a pleasant experience for the puppy. “

Yes! Your energy and attitude will affect the puppies more than you might know. I’ve seen people get so serious in doing this “test” that again, they don’t get the results they might if they were friendlier and more playful with the pup.

I know everyone wants a crystal ball to see into the future of their pup, but I always tell people to talk with the breeder and discuss the personality and temperament of each pup and to try to match them up to your family or personal desires. This is what we love to do!!! Be “Matchmakers!” We also know the parents of the puppy very well and can compare and contrast them with the pups.

Just a few things to consider if you’ve read about this testing and are thinking you need to master it in order to pick your puppy. PLEASE feel free to call us and go over this information, but also be ready to spend time with us and your pup to do a full evaluation of how they react personally to their environment, other people and other animals. We want your pup’s first experience with you to be a pleasant one all around as it will make adjustment to your home so much easier.

And let me just make a disclaimer—there IS some GREAT advice in reading through the document and testing overview. So I wouldn’t say I disapprove of it overall, in fact I agreed with a lot of the tips. I have no problem with her ways of finding the right breed, breeder, etc… great stuff. I just have a problem with the methods of doing this test, treating all breeds the same, and that novices should not do this without assistance (and PERMISSION) from the breeder.

For a list of things we do to socialize our pups, refer to the page in your puppy folder when you pick up your pup so you can continue to do training and socialization when you go home! 🙂

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