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.
Get your free PDF copy of the 3-3-3 rule poster
along with other invaluable adoption resources in our Rescue Dogs 101 From Rescue to Home – Your Survival Checklist.
The 4 dog personalities or temperament types to consider:
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.
- The Easy Going and Happy Dog: This dog is going to be the easiest personality to adopt. Best if you are a new dog owner, as there will likely not many issues that can’t be solved with a basic training class. Your dog will be a happy go lucky dog that just wants to please and be around his people.
- The Independent Dog: An independent dog will be less likely to need his humans around 24/7. He can be good for you if you work all day, or don’t want a dog that follows you around all day.
- The Fearful Dog: A fearful dog can bring on a host of challenges. Some fears in dogs can create a reaction that seems aggressive; in fact, he is just very afraid and trying to protect himself. You will need to have patience with this dog; training and confidence building will be a must. Do not adopt this type of dog just because you feel sorry for him.
- The Aggressive Dog: You should never adopt a truly aggressive dog unless you are an experienced trainer or willing to send this dog to a behaviorist. You will most likely never find a dog up for adoption that is truly aggressive, the shelter should have already identified him as aggressive and will not be up for adoption until they rehabilitate him, or in extreme cases, the dog may be put down.
Every dog is unique, your dogs personality traits may not fit into only one of these categories.
The Volhard’s Puppy Aptitude Test®
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.
6-Point Dog Temperament Test List
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.
- Easy Going
An easy going dog will immediately come to check you out, sniff you, jump up for attention, and exhibit excited behavior, wagging his tail wanting you to pet him.
An independent dog will keep his distance and may appear not interested in interacting with you. He may come sniff you but be more interesting in being on his own.
A fearful dog will hesitate to interact with you, may cower in the corner and try to avoid you. His tail will most likely be down and between his legs.
The dog may come in barking and lunging, showing his teeth. You may want to stop the assessment of this dog right away and move on to another option.
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.
- Easy Going
Noises will not startle this dog, enjoys being talked to, almost as if he is listening to every word. He will likely come to you and check out what you are talking about, wanting you to pet him, or wagging his tail.
An independent dog will listen to you talk, but probably not come toward you to check you out. Loud noises won’t startle the independent dog either.
He may be interested in your high-pitched voice, but too afraid to approach you. Loud voices may cause the dog to cower in the corner of the room. Dropping your keys will startle and make the dog move back or cower.
The aggressive dog may attempt to jump toward or on you or bark at you. The aggressive dog may lunge toward the keys when you drop them.
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.
- Easy Going
An easy going dog will welcome your attention, he will wag his tail with excitement and may beg for more.
An independent dog may come to you when called to check things out, and may like to be pet, but not for a long period of time. Once he’s had enough, he will likely go off and sniff around the room or lay down in the distance.
The fearful dog will back away, put his head down and avoid eye contact. His tail may go down and between his legs.
If the dog has shown any signs of aggressiveness up to this point, I don’t recommend attempting to touch this dog. You may want to consider checking out a different dog.
Play a game of fetch with a ball or squeaky toy.
- Easy Going
The easy going dog will be very eager to play and retrieve toys. The tail will be wagging with excitement.
The independent dog may want to play with the toys but on his own. He will likely not retrieve and bring it back to you. He may also not be interested in the toy at all.
The fearful dog will not be interested in playing right away, but you may be able to coax him after spending some time with him. This will depend on the severity of the fear.
If the dog has shown any signs of aggressiveness up to this point, I don’t recommend playing with this dog. You may want to consider checking out a different dog.
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.
- Easy Going
The easy going dog will be excited to put on the leash. She may pull on the leash, rushing to go outside. Won’t be bothered by other dogs, people, cars or bikes. May want to greet everyone you meet with a happy and wagging tail.
The independent dog will be okay with putting on a leash, may not act super excited to go for a walk. Most likely will not be bothered by other dogs, people, cars or bikes. Prefers not to be pet by strangers.
A fearful dog may be afraid and tuck his head down in fear of the leash. He may cower in the corner of the room again, not wanting to move forward. Be careful putting a leash on this dog, he could bite simply out of fear. If you do get this fearful dog outside, he could be easily startled by the loud noises of the outside world.
If the dog has shown any signs of aggressiveness up to this point, I don’t recommend taking the dog for a walk. You may want to consider checking out a different dog.
6. Other Dogs and/or Cats
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.
- Easy Going
An easy going dog will try to play with the other dogs or even ignore them.
An independent dog will likely check out the other dogs but will prefer to be by himself. Will sometimes play with other dogs.
A fearful dog may hide behind a human or object, cowering in the corner. He may also bark at other dogs, simply as a warning that he is afraid and to stay away from him.
An aggressive dog will likely charge and bark excessively at other dogs. I would hope that a shelter would not allow this dog into a play yard with other dogs.
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?