A temperament test evaluates a dog’s behavior in a range of situations to understand if he will be easy going, independent, fearful or maybe too dominate to be in a multi-dog household.
This is why knowing what to look for in a dog’s personality is an important part of adopting.
When searching for a dog, you may be looking for a particular color, size, and breed type. BUT the health and personality of a dog are the most important things to consider before adopting!
Although many shelters will perform their own Personality and Temperament Testing before putting the dog up for adoption, it’s always best to advocate for yourself. Many shelters and rescues have volunteers that want to help and really love dogs but don’t have the experience to perform a temperament test.
If you are adopting a dog that is in a foster home, you can get a better assessment from the foster. Make sure you ask a lot of questions so the foster doesn’t accidentally leave something important out.
To help you remember what to ask, we have put together a worksheet with more than 50 important questions to ask before adopting your new dog or puppy.
The basic influences on a dog’s temperament are genes, socialization, environment, and training. You can’t change the genes, but you can socialize your puppy and provide the proper training. When adopting a mixed breed dog, it is difficult to predict what his gene pool has provided him.
Every dog is unique, your dogs personality traits may not fit into only one of these categories.
Jack and Wendy Volhard are internationally recognized for their contributions to dog training, health, and nutrition. You can read more about them on their website.
Wendy developed a widely used method for evaluating puppies, the Puppy Aptitude Test (PAT). With their permission, I have created a downloadable PDF for you to use when searching for your perfect puppy. While this test is geared mostly toward puppies, it still has a great value for older dogs.
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Remember, many dogs in the shelter are nervous, confused and under stress. Give them little extra time to become comfortable with you, they could be your perfect dog.
If looking at a puppy, ask about the socialization the puppy has experienced. Puppies should be socialized heavily between the ages of 3 weeks and 16 weeks.
Read more about this in What are the First Things I Need to Teach My New Puppy?
Find a quiet room that you can observe the dog, most shelters will have an observation room. Give the dog a few minutes to sniff and get comfortable in the room.
Test the dog’s reaction to noises, starting with your voice. Change the tone of your voice, from high-pitch baby-like, to normal, to loud. Then drop your keys on the floor.
Cautiously touch the dog. Remember the dog is under stress, no matter how easy going a dog is, sudden movements may startle any dog.
You can start by offering the dog to smell you, turning to your side so as not to be confrontational. If the dog immediately comes up to you, offer him a treat or a petting behind the ears or on his backside.
Play a game of fetch with a ball or squeaky toy.
Ask to take the dog for a walk around the block. Observe how he reacts when putting on the leash. Try and pass other dogs, people, cars, bikes, anything you would normally pass while taking a walk at home.
All dog personalities may pull if she’s never been taught leash manners, this is an easy thing to train, so don’t worry about this yet.
This may or may not be possible. Ask the shelter if you can observe the dog with another dog, they will sometimes have a play yard you can use. And if you have a cat, has the dog been tested around a cat at the shelter?
If you are adopting from a foster home, you can really only do this if they have a resident dog or cat. So if they don’t, observe how the dog is on walks when walking past another dog. This will not always be the same outcome, as some dogs are reactive on leash only.
It’s really important to find a shelter or rescue that you can trust. Ask a lot of questions, and make sure you are adopting through a reputable source.
I’ve heard many horror stories of people adopting a puppy that was sick or had behavior issues they just couldn’t deal with. We all want to think everyone is honest out there, but in reality, there are many bad people just trying to make a buck and don’t care about the dog’s welfare.
Finding the right dog for you and your family can take time, so be patient. It’s better to wait a few days, weeks or even months to find the perfect dog than to adopt a dog that ends up being more than you bargained for. This is usually when dogs get returned to the shelter or rescue.
If you think you found the perfect dog, spend as much time with him as possible before adoption. A reputable shelter or foster home will understand and appreciate your thoroughness.
Don’t adopt a dog just because you feel sorry for him, or if you feel pressured by the shelter or rescue. Go with your gut feeling, take your time and make the right decision for you and your family.
For first-time dog owners, the easy-going type dog is probably best; but does require more one-on-one time, more of your attention. The independent dog is also a good match if you are looking for a lower maintenance dog, a dog that is happy to hang out on his own while you are at work.
While a fearful dog may take a little more time commitment and training to gain his confidence, this fearful dog can really turn into an awesome family member. Do not ignore the fear, or feel sorry for him.
Comment below with the type of dog you adopted, what traits do you see in your dog? What attracted you to him?
Debi McKee is a mom of three kids, three dogs and the creator of Rescue Dogs 101... where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She also volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society.