Choosing Your Puppy (PAT)


Getting a dog or puppy on impulse is rarely a good idea.  Remember that dogs, like cars, were designed for a particular function. You need to decide what you want, a Corvette or a Suburban, a Fox Terrier or a Newfoundland.


When the various breeds were originally developed, there was a greater emphasis on the ability to do a job, such as herding, guarding, hunting, drafting, etc., than appearance.  If a particular breed interests you, find out first what the dog was bred to do.  There are so many different breeds to choose from and if there is a secret to getting that “perfect puppy”, it lies in doing your homework.


The well-trained dog begins with some idea of what role the dog is expected to play in your life and then selecting a dog that is suitable for the job.  Following are some of the reasons for selecting a dog:

Playmate for the kids;
A special activity, such as hunting, herding, breeding, showing in conformation, or competing in performance events;
Status symbol (not wise); or
A combination of the above.

Some dogs are able to fill all of these expectations, while others have more limited talents.


Getting a dog for a status symbol usually means one of the guarding or rarer breeds, and often these represent some special challenges.  If you want a rare breed, first find out why it is such a rare breed and if there are any potential drawbacks.

Conversely, one of the most popular dogs and number 1 in American Kennel Club registrations is the Labrador Retriever.  The reason is simple - it is a good multipurpose dog that can serve as a companion and playmate for the kids, is naturally protective, generally enjoys good health, makes a good guide dog, and with little time and effort can be transformed into a well trained dog.


You also need to take into account your own life style and circumstances.  For most of us this means a dog that can satisfy our need for companionship, is easily trained and doesn’t require a lot of upkeep.


Everyone has his or her own preference and there is an enormous choice, from the four-pound Yorkshire Terrier to the 200-pound Mastiff.  Many dogs come in different sizes, such as Poodles, or Schnauzers.  Other have a smaller version that is similar in appearance, such as Collies and Shelties, or Dobermans and Miniature Pinschers, or German Shepherds and Corgis, or Greyhounds and Whippets, the “poor man’s race horse”.


Tidbits: Poodles and Terriers don’t shed but have to be groomed regularly.  Unless you are willing to spend the time and effort learning how to do it yourself, this means periodic visits to a professional groomer, an expensive proposition.

Breeds with long hair require more upkeep than those with short hair.  Pretty obvious when you think about it, but often completely overlooked when selecting a puppy or dog.  Some breeds, like Briards, Poodles, Wirehaired Dachshunds and Terriers don’t shed, a most desirable feature.  On the other hand, unless you are willing to learn how to groom your dog, it means regular visits to the grooming parlor, visits that are not cheap.


Some breeds, such as terriers and some of the herding dogs, bark a lot more than others.  If you live in an apartment such a dog would not be a good choice.


Bet You Didn’t Know: Why do the breed standard for many dogs sound so similar when describing the dog’s temperament?  Because so many of them were written by the same man.  In 1874, J.H. Walsh, under the pen name of Stonehenge, published “The Dog: Its Varieties and Management in Health”, the first major effort to describe the more than 60 breeds recognized at that time.


In selecting a dog or puppy be aware of the time factor.  How much exercise does this particular breed require and are you in a position to give it to your dog?  Some breeds require less exercise than others, but many require 2 daily 20-minute walks, at a minimum, and some, such as the Sporting breeds, much more.  Just letting the dog out in a backyard is not sufficient.


In the selection process you need to remind yourself continuously that your dog is going to be with you anywhere from 8 to 16 years.  And, the older he or she gets, the more important regular exercise becomes.


How much time do you have available to devote to training that cute little bundle of fur?   If you have little or no more that 10 to 15 minutes a day, then you need to select a breed that is easily trained and doesn’t require much exercise.


A good place to start is The Complete Dog Book by the American Kennel Club, which describes the breed standards for the different breeds recognized by that organization. Two other excellent resources are Roger Caras Dog Book: A Complete Guide to Every AKC Breed (Dorset Press, 1992) and Paws to Consider: Choosing the Right Dog for You and Your Family by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson (Grand Central Publishing, 1999).


Another wealth of information can be found at dog shows, where you can see a large variety of breeds and talk to their owners and breeders. But remember, they are obviously and naturally biased.


To help you get the dog you want we have devised a simple test which is amazingly accurate in predicting inherited behavioral tendencies and how the puppy will turn out as an adult.


Some of the tests we use were developed as long ago as the l930’s for dogs bred to become Guide Dogs.  Then in the 1950’s, studies on puppies were done to determine how quickly they learned.  These studies were actually done to identify children’s learning stages.


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 testing puppies at 49 days of age.  Testing before or after that age affected the accuracy of the test, depending on the 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.

The test are as follows:

• Social Attraction - degree of social attraction to people, confidence or dependence.
Following - willingness to follow a person.
Restraint - degree of dominant or submissive tendency, and ease of handling in difficult situations.
Social Dominance - degree of acceptance of social dominance by a person.
Elevation - degree of accepting dominance while in a position of no control, such as at the veterinarian or groomer.
Retrieving - degree of willingness to do something for you. Together with Social Attraction and Following a key indicator for ease or difficulty in training.
Touch Sensitivity - degree of sensitivity to touch and a key indicator to the type of training equipment required.
Sound Sensitivity - degree of sensitivity to sound, such as loud noises or thunderstorms.
Sight Sensitivity - degree of response to a moving object, such as chasing bicycles, children or squirrels.
Stability - degree of startle response to a strange object.

During the testing make a note of the heart rate of the pup, which is an indication of how it deals with stress, as well as its energy level.  Puppies come with high, medium or low energy levels.  You have to decide for yourself, which suits your life style.  Dogs with high energy levels need a great deal of exercise, and will get into mischief if this energy is not channeled into the right direction.


Finally, look at the overall structure of the puppy.  You see what you get at 49 days age.  If the pup has strong and straight front and back legs, with all four feet pointing in the same direction, it will grow up that way, provided you give it the proper diet and environment in which to grow.  If you notice something out of the ordinary at this age, it will stay with puppy for the rest of its life.  He will not grow out of it.


Here are the ground rules for performing the test:

• The testing is done in a location unfamiliar to the puppies. This does not mean they have to taken away from home. A 10-foot square area is perfectly adequate, such as a room in the house where the puppies have not been.
• The puppies are tested one at a time.
• There are no other dogs or people, except the scorer and the tester, in the testing area
• The puppies do not know the tester.
• The scorer is a disinterested third party and not the person interested in selling you a puppy.
• The scorer is unobtrusive and positions him or herself so he or she can observe the puppies’ responses without having to move.
• The puppies are tested before they are fed.
• The puppies are tested when they are at their liveliest.
• Do not try to test a puppy that is not feeling well.
• Puppies should not be tested the day of or the day after being vaccinated.
• Only the first response counts!

Top Dog Tips: During the test, watch the puppy’s tail.  It will make a difference in the scoring whether the tail is up or down.


The tests are simple to perform and anyone with some common sense can do them.  You can, however, elicit the help of someone who has tested puppies before and knows what they are doing.

• Social attraction - the owner or caretaker of the puppies places it in the test area about four feet from the tester and then leaves the test area. The tester kneels down and coaxes the puppy to come to him or her by encouragingly and gently clapping hands and calling. The tester must coax the puppy in the opposite direction from where it entered the test area. Hint: Lean backward, sitting on your heels instead of leaning forward toward the puppy. Keep your hands close to your body encouraging the puppy to come to you instead of trying to reach for the puppy.


• Following - the tester stands up and slowly walks away encouraging the puppy to follow. Hint: Make sure the puppy sees you walk away and get the puppy to focus on you by lightly clapping your hands and using verbal encouragement to get the puppy to follow you. Do not lean over the puppy.


• Restraint - the tester crouches down and gently rolls the puppy on its back and holds it on its back for 30 seconds. Hint: Hold the puppy down without applying too much pressure. The object is not to keep it on its back but to test its response to being placed in that position.


• Social Dominance - let the puppy stand up or sit and gently stroke it from the head to the back while you crouch beside it. See if it will lick your face, an indication of a forgiving nature. Continue stroking until you see a behavior you can score. Hint: When you crouch next to the puppy avoid leaning or hovering over the puppy. Have the puppy at your side with both of you facing in the same direction.

Top Dog Tips: 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.

• Elevation Dominance - the tester cradles the puppy with both hands, supporting the puppy under its chest and gently lifts it two feet off the ground and holds it there for 30 seconds.


• Retrieving - the tester crouches beside the puppy and attracts its attention with a crumpled up piece of paper. When the puppy shows some interest, the tester throws the paper no more than four feet in front of the puppy encouraging it to retrieve the paper.


• Touch Sensitivity - the tester locates the webbing of one the puppy’s front paws and presses it lightly between his index finger and thumb. The tester gradually increases pressure while counting to ten and stops when the puppy pulls away or shows signs of discomfort.


• Sound Sensitivity - the puppy is placed in the center of the testing area and an assistant stationed at the perimeter makes a sharp noise, such as banging a metal spoon on the bottom of a metal pan.


• Sight Sensitivity - the puppy is placed in the center of the testing area. The tester ties a string around a bath towel and jerks it across the floor, two feet away from the puppy.


• Stability - an umbrella is opened about five feet from the puppy and gently placed on the ground.


In the score results below, you will find the responses and the score assigned to each particular response.  You will see some variations and will have to make a judgment on what score to give them.


The scores are interpreted as follows:


Few puppies will test with all 2’s or all 3’s - there will be a mixture of scores.


For that first time, wonderfully easy to train, potential star, look for a puppy that scores with mostly 4’s and 3’s.  Don’t worry about the score on Touch Sensitivity - you can compensate for that with the right training equipment.


Tidbits: It’s hard not to become emotional when picking a puppy - they are all so cute, soft and cuddly.  Remind yourself that this dog is going to be with you for 8 to 16 years.  Don’t hesitate to step back a little to contemplate your decision.  Sleep on it and review it in the light of day.


Avoid the puppy with a score of 1 on the Restraint and Elevation tests.  This puppy will be too much for the first time owner.


It’s a lot more fun to have a good dog, one that is easy to train, one you can live with and one you can be proud of, than one that is a constant struggle.