What Do You Look For When Selecting A Service Dog Puppy?/temperment Tests?

Discussion in 'Service Dog Training' started by srdogtrainer, Feb 28, 2011.


Do you use a temperment test when evaluating puppies as potential Service dogs?

Yes, All puppies are selected solely based on their temperament test results. 3 vote(s) 30.0%
Yes, but it is not the only deciding factor when we are chosing puppies. 7 vote(s) 70.0%
Yes, We temperment test all considered puppies but for research purposes only. 0 vote(s) 0.0%
No, we never use a temperment test. 0 vote(s) 0.0%
  1. srdogtrainer Experienced Member

    I was wondering what trainers generally look for when selecting a service dog puppy? I am particularly curious about if you use a temperament test; what is your ideal reaction with retrieve and what test do you use for testing a puppies retrieve?

    Do the results you look for vary depending on which breed you are evaluating?
    Have you experienced success with puppies that have all responded a particular way to a certain part of the test?

    I am curious to see what other service dog trainers have discoved with selection of puppies vs. results.

    tx_cowgirl likes this.

  2. tx_cowgirl Honored Member

    So glad you posted this; hope you get some responses. I would like to know more about service pup selection too.
    srdogtrainer likes this.
  3. Jean Cote Administrator

    I wish I could help, but I don't know the answer. I assume the puppies must meet a temperament check list.
  4. srdogtrainer Experienced Member

    Tx: I hope so too! I know it is an interest of yours as well. I hope some trainers will share their knowledge. If I don't get any responses I will post the little bit of information I have and the observations I have made and have heard from others.

    Yes service dogs have extremely high standards! As with everything, there are many methods of determining the 'right' candidate and I am curious about how other trainers chose their puppies in training. I know that some people are against temperament tests altogether while others base their decisions solely on various tests, and of course there is everything in the middle. I am especially interested in what results trainers look for and accept for retrieve. For example: Do trainers tend to chose a dog that will naturally pick up an item over puppies that ignore it? I have recently been making some interesting observations with a litter of puppies I am working with and I was wondering if other people have similar conclusions or have done any research on this and can share their theories. I do not have much experience with temperament tests or choosing puppies, mainly I can tell a definite possible candidate or a puppy that is absolutely not going to work out. Anyway I hope some S. D. trainers will have some ideas to add.
  5. reveuse Well-Known Member

    this is really interesting ... i can't wait to see what replies are posted
  6. fickla Experienced Member

    Most of the puppies we get for the organization I work for are donated by breeders. Usually they donate the leftover 1 or 2 in their litter or sometimes they keep/sell their show prospects and then donate their pet prospects. Typically we have several breeders that donate repeatedly. But most of the time our organization is not the one choosing the puppy out of the entire litter, maybe we get the choice out of 2 pups. While we prefer to get the puppy before 12wks, we also accept teenagers and even adults under 2yrs. We typically use labs but also work with goldens, smooth coated collies, poodles, doodles, and rescue mutts.

    Our main criteria (besides health testing of the parents and the parent's temperament) is that the puppy is confident. We don't do the formal temperament testing and rarely get to see the dog at that 7wk mark anyway. So instead we look at how quickly they recover from loud noises, other scary things, and rough handling and look at how people focused they are. Yeah we will also see if they have any natural retrieve but in a puppy we more so want interest in the object and don't place too much emphasis on it. And for the sake of our volunteer puppy raisers we don't want the bossy puppy in the litter but more the middle of the road easier to handle and live with dog.

    For the shelter dogs the criteria is basically the same but stricter. Puppies are mold able, adults not as much.

    We also just started breeding our own litters of labs and have been keeping the entire litter. Most career changes are done in the adolescent stages regardless of whether the dog was from our litter or donated. Besides health issues the main reason for career changing is shyness/stress in public or basically just not completely bomb proofed.

    We have a wide range of applicants and do 5 types of assistance dogs so I think this gives the dogs a much better chance at succeeding. The high drive dogs work nicely as diabetic alert dogs and have clients who can exercise them. The low drive dog who doesn't have exceptionally great work ethics but love to cuddle can make fantastic autism dogs if they like kids. Even the dogs who come back in to final training at a year and a half with no skills can succeed as it's just training. The most important role are puppy raisers do is socializing, socializing, socializing.
  7. tx_cowgirl Honored Member

    Great response Fickla!!!
    It's great that the group you work for provides different types of assistance dog so that each dog has a better chance of succeeding. Really a great idea.
  8. srdogtrainer Experienced Member

    Is there a particular reason your organization uses mostly labs or just personal preference? I know a lot of programs chose Labs as their breed of choice.
  9. fickla Experienced Member

    I think it's just personal preference. The other organization in town uses mainly goldens. But the goldens we get donated make great autism dogs but don't have the same drive to work as the labs. Except for the field goldens but while I love them way more than the show goldens the puppy raisers have a harder time handling them.

    Edit: And of course the retrievers and retriever mixes are more common simply because 3 of the 5 types of dogs we do need retrieves.
  10. srdogtrainer Experienced Member

    Thanks for your reply! I was curious because Goldens have always been my favorite breed but I interned at another organization that did not have any success with them and it seemed like no one there liked goldens!:dogohmy:

    I have had a chance to work with one really amazing Lab though!

    Currently I am working with Poodles though, also really amazing dogs! Although I had to get my own Golden so I could have one around to work with...LOL!
  11. dxenion Active Member

    I was wondering what trainers generally look for when selecting a service dog puppy?
    Although there are formal temperament tests out there (this is probably the most well known: http://www.volhard.com/pages/pat.php), I conduct my own assessment based on what I want the dog for and look at things like:

    Noise phobia (what happens if I drop something on the ground and it makes a noise?). I look for very quick recovery. An inital startle response is allowed.
    Body sensitivity (can it handled being touched all over) - Yes
    Submissiveness (roll on back and watch for reaction) - Will calmly accept being rolled over without displaying extreme submissiveness ie tail between legs, urinating.
    Inquisitiveness (take pup out of environment, put object in, put pup in and watch reaction) - a great reaction is a confident approach and investigation of the item.
    Retrieve (throw a toy - does it bring it back, run away, play with it on that spot or ignore it) - see below.
    What sort of reaction does it have around food (any aggression, normal puppy competition, mechanical eating) - loves to eat but not food aggressive.
    Response to different people (skin colour, sex, height, facial hair, hat, glasses) - takes it all in it's stride.
    Character (bold, outgoing, shy, fearful, nervous, calm, easygoing?) - happy, easygoing, carefree type dog without being dominant or frantically trying to climb all over you.

    These are just some of the things to consider along with socialisation, parents, environmental exposure and birth home environment. For those that select dogs for other people, all this is matched against the type of tasks the dog may do and the person the dog is being matched to.

    After a while you get a feel for it and can tell right off if a pup is worth looking more into or not.

    What is your ideal reaction with retrieve and what test do you use for testing a puppies retrieve?
    When testing for the retrieve I do a cold test and then an interactive test if required. For a cold test, the pup is loose in the testing yard. I then throw a familiar toy off to the side of me (away from the pup) and watch the reaction. I am looking for a pup that may have an initial startle response but then goes over to investigate. A confident apprach is desired. If the pup brings the item to me with a little encouragement and backwards walking - great. If there is no reaction to the cold test (ie pup just looks at the toy and doesn't move towards it) I give the interactive test. This is where I get the toy and initiate play with it, getting the pup interested in it and perhaps even grabbing for it. I then throw the toy away from us as per the cold test and look for the same response.

    Do the results you look for vary depending on which breed you are evaluating?
    I only look at German Shepherds and White Swiss Shepherds for no reason other than personal preference.

    Have you experienced success with puppies that have all responded a particular way to a certain part of the test?
    Yes. I have four dogs. All were selected using the above test with desired results geared towards their future working roles (physiotherapy aid, canine product model, assistance dog, truffle detection). All have done very well in their different fields. It certainly helps to know their baseline (default) behaviours when exposed to different stimulus as you can incorporate that into training.
  12. fly30 Experienced Member

    Very interesting post, thanks for opening the discussion and thanks to the trainers who answered !!! I'm really keen on what can be taught to service dogs, I'm almost certain Fly would have been a great dog for that.
    I would have loved to train service dogs.
  13. twinspirits Well-Known Member

    I didn't select on temperament till after selecting the breed, I chose a breed with the characteristics I wanted in the dog, then a breeder that had dogs of the same temperament I was looking for, I was with the litter from when they were 3 weeks old so was able to watch their personality, development and temperament as they grew then I choose from that, I had pick of the litter which actually helped a lot as I could pick the most suitable pup for me. I didn't get the most outgoing or bossy pup or the most shy one but one in the middle that would be easy to train, bonded to me and sociable. I don't do the roll on back as I don't subscribe to the dominant theory in dogs, but I did notice reactions to new items, sounds, adaptiveness, ability to touch, interactions with toys or not and whether they were shy, confident or outgoing. I did socialise excessively whilst in the learning stages as a puppy and did lots of obedience. I didn't start any formal training till he was fully grown which is now, but did do all the basics leading up to his formal training. I have a dog that is lovely in temperament, sweet, willing to work and please and very sociable, I know there won't be any trouble teaching him anything as I have known him from 3 weeks onwards and we chose each other, he actually wouldn't leave me alone when I was with the litter but it wasn't the reason I chose him it was all the other factors combined, and knowing the parent's temperaments helped a lot, he is exactly like his daddy in temperament and nature which was exactly what I was seeking.
    running_dog likes this.
  14. tx_cowgirl Honored Member

    Sooo happy to see a Dalmatian assistance dog! :D I love love love Dalmatians and grew up with them. Such incredible dogs, so fun to work with and so intelligent. I have always thought Dals were too high energy for assistance work in general, but I suppose there are unexpecteds in every breed. :)
    All the Dals I've ever had in my life have been incredible dogs, just lovely. Love their enthusiasm and eagerness to learn and work. One of these days I would love to get another one.
    Have you done all of his training on your own, or did you work with a trainer or organization?
  15. ilovedogs New Member

    I have an assistance dog named `Shine' to raise for about 12 months and she has learnt quite a lot but I am interested to know if there would be any specific things I can teach for an autistic child. Has anyone trained for autism before? She is 4 months old and so far I have taught her paw/shake hands, sit, down, let's go (for walk), leave, roll over, turn around (spin), wait, and currently trying to teach the cookie on the nose trick. She's doing well but would rather teach specifics for autism if anyone's got any suggestions. Thanks.
  16. twinspirits Well-Known Member

    tx_cowgirl - all the training has been done on my own with my carer/partner and will continue to be, but I am the one that does all the training etc with him. Dreamer is very laid back for his breed which is like his daddy, I did seek a high energy dog though because I like to be very active and do a lot outside and want to do agility and dog dancing with him, and whatever else comes up that we can do together. I am trying to find a wheelchair I can use to do the endurance trial with him, will likely be another year or two before I get that though. He is my first Dalmatian but not my first dog and after having him I cannot imagine living without a Dalmatian in my life. I love other breeds but I am sure there will always be a Dally with me. Also there are a few other Dalmatian assistance dogs out there, I know there is a guide dog Dalmatian and other types, I did a lot of research before choosing the breed and waited about 6 months for the litter to be born and then the 8 weeks to get him, was a long wait but so worth it!

    ilovedogs - I am training Dreamer for Autism assistance (I am diagnoses with Severe Autism Spectrum Disorder, my partner helps me with writing and using the internet etc) as well as seizure alert and other mobility tasks. for Autism for me specifically Dreamer is being taught to give sensory pressure when I am stressed or have a meltdown, he leans right up against me or is given a cue to jump up with his paws on me and hug, is difficult to describe without seeing it. For a child you can teach to keep away from roads, help stop running away, help with self injurious behaviour,-for me it is head banging, biting, it depends on the child and the issues the specific child has, everyone with Autism is different in their issues and needs. I am also teaching him to go on my bed at night to give sensory feedback for me as I don't have a great sense of where I am in space and the weight and feel of him there would help with that and help me sleep more. There are a lot of autism specific tasks that can be trained, but it is best to know what exactly you want the dog to do for your child. I had to go through a lot of this with my partner to know what was wanted and what would be possible or not, I also have to have this list for applying to get my dog certified once he is trained enough. Hope this helps some.
    tx_cowgirl likes this.
  17. ilovedogs New Member

    Thank you very much for your info twinspirits. I will certainly keep all that in mind when I am training. Shine does love to get up on your lap sometimes and I have been discouraging it but maybe it's not that bad after all!! All the best with your training too - thanks again.
  18. Pawtential Unleashed Experienced Member

    I have recently helped a family with finding the right service dog for their 19 yr old daughter so I thought I would share our journey. She is currently stable with her bipolar but has spent many years in and out of hospitals. She has severe anxiety in stores, around crowds and in situations where she doesn't know the people or much about the situation.

    She basically wants an ESA (emotional support animal) who can also perform tasks to help like bringing down her anxiety by licking, alert to the onset of a manic episode, provide a buffer between her and a person if they walk too close, remind her to take her meds and wake her if her alarm goes off and she can't wake on her own due to sleep meds.

    Before meeting me they had rescued a BC x Corgi mix and had sent him away for training. He passed his CGC and I met them as they were working towards TDI certification as precursors to starting public access work. When I met him I saw a quietly nervous, tense dog who was partially shut down. I said I didn't think he was a good candidate for the work. He obviously loved her, but he would lie with his back to her and was non enthusiastic when asked to do even simple things - the first tail wag I saw was when they were leaving.

    They assured me he was just like that and the other trainer said he was fine - and we worked for several more weeks with him until they relayed to me that he had snapped at a groomer working on his feet and snapped a child in the face while working on the response to children part of the TDI test. (Children are supposed to be 5 feet away for that test - I think they started public access work and didn't want to say) He was backed into a corner with a child on either side of him petting his head and he snapped, scratching one child's face. Needless to say they then took my warning more seriously and retired him to a home dog. The girls anxiety contributed greatly to a stressful environment for him and he just couldn't handle it.

    Deciding they wanted another Corgi - they bought one from a breeder many hours away and had her shipped. I disagreed with all aspects of this - a Corgi was not right for this particular family and neither was taking a pup sight unseen. The breeder was thrilled to potentially have one of her dogs go into service work and the girl I am working with was adamant on first sight that it had to be the blue merle female. She would consider no other dog and her parents gave in and sent for the dog. She arrived at 10 weeks tense, scared and disoriented of course. Over the next few weeks she did not settle in - she was defensive and snappish to other dogs and insecure about everything. She ran to the girls lap at the first sign of trouble and then snapped and lunged at any dog that came by. She didn't want to be held or petted and once the initial fear was over, she was off on her own. Then one day I met them and the girl had a service dog in training vest on her and had taken her out into public! I lost it and we had a very heated (me) discussion about their options and whether I would even stay on board as the trainer if they were not going to take my advice.

    She didn't feel she could cope without a dog so they went back to the drawing board, the Corgi is now a well loved pet and this time they chose a Havanese x Cavalier mix from a local breeder. I put forth very specific instructions to wait for me to go with them to evaluate but they came back one day with a new pup anyway. [The daughter has issues with impulsiveness and at this stage, I found out later, her parents were doing whatever they could to just keep her stable. They would just sort out the consequences later...] They brought home a very sweet 13 week old pup and we began the process again. This went much better this time but again she wanted to start public access much to early as she couldn't go into stores without some sort of assistance. Against all of my advice they started taking her with them and the girls anxiety was too much for the little one. She is a wonderful dog but she cannot cope with the pressure of service training. She shut down and would stop and the more they took her out the more nervous she became in other circumstances. Eventually I was able to convince them that this was not right and she was removed from the training program. She is also a very loved pet who is starting in agility and has completed 3 obedience classes.

    So again the girl had no dog. At this point I made a decision that I thought would work. I let her use Ayla, my Newfoundland, for a trial period of two weeks and told her if it all worked out with them and they wanted to consider adopting her from me - I was willing to consider the option. She needed help, Ayla is beautifully trained and I knew she could be a fantastic dog for this. I rescued Ayla a year and a half ago and in that time she has proved to be the single most unflappable dog I have ever met. I would hate to let her go but if she could fulfill a need for someone else and I kept her - I felt selfish. So the trial began, Ayla did beautifully but in the end the girl decided that she wanted a dog of her own and not one that when we were out together training, deferred to me. This was true - if I was in sight - of course Ayla looked to me for guidance and so they began the search again.

    This time she got a blue merle collie - again with the merle, again with the herding breed - again with the warnings and though the pup was super smart she was too much to handle and was returned to the breeder a few weeks later.

    So now it has been three weeks - and she has decided that she is learning better coping skills and she can actually use her brain and not have a dog for a while. She is not ready and if they go this route again - I have full rights of refusal and choice as decreed by her parents. It has been a ride and through it all they now have three cherished pets and a much better understanding of the rigors of what she is asking.

    So in summary - a novel later - the key for me is not only temperament but also an understanding of the key drives of the breed, selecting a dog that is as unflappable as possible, an innately calm and intune nature, an ability to handle stress and a great support system of people to help with training---sometimes it truly takes a village!
    Dogster and tigerlily46514 like this.
  19. tigerlily46514 Honored Member

    wow, i'm so in awe of you, even considering allowing this girl to keep Ayla to help her out.<---i got a lump in my throat there, and was kind of glad the girl was unaware, overtime, Ayla would become "her" dog, esp if you were not around.

    wow, This sounds like a very difficult setup for you to work around, but, it sounds like you have done as well as anyone could. You have both my deep empathy and my admiration.

    I totally support your viewpoints on this whole matter...fascinating situation, in the same way the way a car wreck can be riveting....keep up posted and GOOD LUCK! wow.

    Good luck trying to teach them which breeds might be best for her needs....and what various breeds need to be sane, etc.
    Dogster likes this.
  20. Dogster Honored Member

    Wow, I admire you, I really do.:) It must be frustrating, you telling them to wait, them getting another dog.... And willing to give up your dog.... Wow.:eek: Good luck!!!!
    tigerlily46514 likes this.

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