Behavioral Personality Testing
Excerpt from Happy Dog: How Busy People Care for Their Dogs
Behavioral Personality Testing
Okay, it sounds more like a computer dating service than a dog selection device, but don’t underestimate the value of making sure that you and your fur-faced friend are compatible before you say “I do.” Veterinary behaviorists are available if you run into trouble, but do yourself a big favor and start paying attention to those little habits that you find annoying (such as being repeatedly nipped on the ankles), and take action before they become permanent traits. After all, dating is about getting to know someone before you get too serious about them. Why should selecting a dog companion be any different? Keep in mind that most dogs will live with you for 10 years or more. These days, a dog’s life span may last longer than a marriage. Behavioral tests are much more accurate when conducted on a full-grown dog than on a puppy. If you don’t mind adopting an adult dog, you can probably deter most of his bad habits in a relatively short span of time. If the dog tries to bite you, that is definitely a bad sign. Puppies may play bite, but an older dog who tries to hurt you is a problem to be avoided. This is no time to be codependent or wanting to adopt the problem dog at the shelter to make yourself look like a hero. With your on-the-go lifestyle, you need a confident, friendly dog who is as sociable as you are.
Personality testing, whether done on a puppy or an adult dog, really means documenting that you are the boss in this human-canine relationship. Being the boss doesn’t mean that you have to bark out orders to your dog every few minutes. But it does mean that your dog must respect your authority and recognize you as the top dog in the household. Dogs are pack animals who are used to functioning in a social hierarchy. If you want to earn your dog’s respect, you must be dominant (not domineering) and consistent with your household rules. This is not an association of equals.
Okay, enough lecturing about dominance. To test a dog’s personality, you want to demonstrate that the dog is interested in you (endless devotion will follow) and that there are no displays of unwanted behaviors such as being overly fearful or aggressive. When you first meet a potential candidate, notice if the dog prefers to spend time with you more than with other dogs. If so, this is a good sign. Then take the dog away from other dogs, people, and distractions and observe how the two of you interact. Expect that the dog will first spend a brief time exploring the surroundings but then should want to spend some quality time playing with you. This is a sure sign that the dog is sociable.
Now comes the tough part. You need to see if the dog will respect your authority. The easiest way to test for this is to bring along some grooming instruments. Try brushing the dog’s coat. Brush all around the head, the hind end, and even the belly. Then handle the toes on all feet. Look to see how clean the toes and foot pads are. Take a cotton swab and gently wipe along the outer opening of the ear. If the dog is being receptive, consider lifting his upper lip to examine the condition of his teeth. But if at any time you feel that you are placing yourself at risk of being bitten, stop immediately!
Please do not adopt any dog who demonstrates aggression toward you while you are doing these routine handling actions. Young puppies may nip because they have yet to learn bite inhibition, but an adult dog who shows any inclination of intent to hurt you is not acceptable. By the same token, any dog who is overly submissive or who urinates when you touch him is probably not a good choice either. This dog may be too fearful or suffer from severe separation anxiety.
Keep in mind that you need to be highly selective when choosing a dog. Fortunately, there are plenty of friendly, tail-wagging dogs available who would leap at the chance of landing a good home.
We’ve placed a lot of emphasis in this chapter on the selection process because we feel it is imperative to pick the right dog to complement your busy lifestyle. We implore you to select a dog who suits your lifestyle and to train him to be your lifelong companion. Neither of you will be disappointed with the results.