Dog Temperament Testing Techniques

A dog’s general behavior towards people and other animals is commonly termed as its “temperament”. This trait is an outcome of the dog’s instinct and the environmental factors in which it has grown up. 

What is temperament testing?

Temperament testing is one of the routes to evaluate a dog’s temperament, which aids in understanding the canine in a better way.  Temperament testing for canines is commonly performed by a professional expert for the breeders and rescue organizations, for their personal needs. but learning how it works may aid in a better interpretation of the results if one wants to adopt an adult pooch. This evaluation usually takes about 15 minutes.

What are the different items that are evaluated in a canine temperament test?

The following items are tested for a canine’s temperament by the American Temperament Test Society:

  • Prey drive
  • Aggression level
  • Protectiveness
  • The ability to distinguish between a threatening and non-threatening situation.
  • Stability
  • Confidence
  • Friendliness

How canine temperament test is conducted?

This section describes the various steps that are followed during the evaluation.

Temperament test requisites

The section beneath explains the requisites that one needs to gather prior to the test.

a. Determining the temperament test type the dog needs 

A pet owner needs to narrow down the type of temperament test they would like to test their dog on from the list provided above. This will help an individual to narrow down the companies that offer it. Some facilities that offer this service include The American Temperament Test Society, The American Kennel Club, some boarding or daycare facilities also offer this option with trained experts in this evaluation.

b.  Physical examination of the dog by a veterinarian

A vet needs to physically check a dog prior to temperament testing as certain medical conditions like arthritis are seen to decrease the dog responsiveness during the testing process. Unknown medical conditions if not diagnosed beforehand can lead to test misinterpretations of the dog’s responses to the different temperament exercises.

c. Procure the dog’s full history 

For a better test outcome, it is always recommended to provide a complete history of the canine. This will help the expert to provide accurate results. The history should include the dog’s breed, age, sex, and reproductive status (intact, spayed, neutered). The dog history should also have information on the dog’s reaction to other humans and animals. Information of obedience training attendance can also be noted down.


# Dog breed is unknown- Dog DNA tests with cheek swabs available in the market can be purchased.  

# The tester should also know if the dog has or has previously shown any aggressive behavior with the specific reason for aggression like food aggressive, aggressive towards people, etc.

c. Provide information on the pet owner

In addition to having a full dog history, the tester will also need to know about the pet parents experience with dog ownership and dog training. It would also be helpful for the tester to know about the home environment that includes young children, other pets. Information about the ability to provide additional training for the dog can also help if any.

Note: Try to provide all the information about the pet and its owner honestly.

d. Testing equipment gathering 

Make sure the dog’s collar and leash are sturdy prior to the evaluation as the evaluator will take the dog through several workouts. In addition to a collar and leash, one may also need a food bowl, some of the dog’s toys, and a chair. The equipment needed depends on the type of temperament test the dog will need to undergo.

Note: One can record the testing workouts to know how the dog responded.

e. Select an area for a temperament evaluation

The test needs to be conducted in a controlled environment without any distractions and should be unfamiliar to the dog. A veterinarian may be able to recommend the best location for the test. 

f. Select an experienced tester and handler 

It is very important to zero on an experienced handler and an evaluator who is unknown to the dog to conduct the temperament evaluation with specific expertise according to the test needs.


#During the testing, the handler will not be able to give your dog any correction or guidance, unless directed by the tester.

#An internet search of local temperament testing companies will help in zeroing out the best testers and testing services.

Temperament test evaluation for adult dogs

This section explains the temperament assessment tasks or workouts that are generally carried out for adult dogs.

a. Attitude towards strangers

To assess this trait, there should be a neutral as well as a friendly stranger. The neutral stranger who is unfamiliar to the dog should first approach the handler, shake hands with the handler and ignore the dog. The dog’s reaction at this point will allow the handler to determine its level of protectiveness and/or possessiveness.

Later a friendly stranger unfamiliar to the dog needs to approach the handler happily and later pet the dog. This approach will provide insights into the dog’s active social skills.

b. Sudden auditory stimulus-response

This is a two-subtest evaluation which includes a hidden noise and a gunshot test.

  • Hidden noise test
    • This test involves a hidden assistant who shakes a metal bucket filled with rocks and then places it on the trail ahead of the dog. Later the handler allows the dog to investigate the bucket. This test helps the handler to determine the dog’s alertness and curiosity levels.
  • Gunshot test
    • This test should necessarily be conducted only under the supervision of a professional canine behaviorist. Here, a hidden assistant fires a 0.22 caliber pistol three times in a row to check the dog’s recovery response. Most of the dogs that undergo this test fail to clear it.

c.  Sudden visual stimulus-response

Here the dog’s response to a visual stimulus is tested with the aid of an umbrella. The umbrella test involves a handler who approaches an assistant sitting in a chair with a closed umbrella held at a 90-degree angle to the handler coming closer to him or her. The umbrella is opened exactly or approximately when the canine is five feet from the umbrella. In this test, the handler may encourage and permit the dog to investigate the umbrella. 

d. Response to tactile stimuli

The response to tactile stimuli involves two sub evaluations. In the first evaluation, the handler and the dog walk an entire length of a 12 x 3 feet clear plastic strip. In the second test, only the pooch will walk the entire length of a 12 x 3 feet exercise stretch. This test determines the dog reactions to any unusual footing.

e. Protective and aggressive trait testing

Here a dog’s protective and aggressive trait level is evaluated only by an expert as aggression is a dangerous trait that cannot be handled by a normal layman if the dog reacts negatively. This test is subdivided into three subtests.

In the first part of the test, the handler and dog stand at the designated mark and an unusually dressed stranger is asked to walk in front of them at an approximately 38 feet away. Here the dog’s reaction to an unusual situation is tested and is the non-threatening portion of this evaluation.

In the second or the threatening portion of the test, an unusual stranger will advance to the handler and the dog in a threatening manner from approximately 10 feet. This test measures the aggression level and protection of the dog during a threatening situation.

In the last subtest, the dog’s aggression level is evaluated. Here an unusual stranger is asked to advance towards the handler and the dog in an aggressive manner from approximately 18 feet. The stranger never gets closer than 10 feet from the dog. This test accounts for the dog’s breed, training, and instincts.

The outcomes of these temperament test will provide insights into the pet´s weakness and strengths to its parent. This is a guide for the pet pal to see where its pooch needs training if any.

Puppy temperament evaluation and selection techniques

This evaluation guide will help a first-time pet owner in choosing the right puppy. Testing a puppy’s temperament is something that one could do on their own. But experts recommend selecting a tester who possesses knowledge of the genetics of the puppy’s litter that is going to be evaluated. The section beneath will explain the techniques in detail.

a. The rollover test

Here the puppy needs to be rolled onto its back and the tester needs to hold it there for about 15 seconds by gently placing his or her hand on its chest. One needs to observe as to how much a puppy resists when being held in this way.

The outcome of this test is

# If the puppy shows resistance for the entire time that it’s held in the rollover position it is called a “Dominant puppy”. 

# A more submissive puppy is seen to put up little to no resistance and may start licking the tester that is another trait of submission.

b. Puppy paw squeeze test

Here the puppy is made to stand on all his paws. One needs to gently hold both of its front paws by covering them with his or her hands using gentle pressure for about one minute. This step needs to be repeated with the tiny pet´s back paws also. The level of resistance to being held needs to be noted.  

Note: A tester just needs to apply enough pressure on the pooch´s paws to just to keep him in place but not to hurt him. As pain causes the puppy to resist regardless of its dominant or submissive trait.

c. Petting and caring the tiny pooch all over

This test helps to judge the overall temperament of the tiny puppy. Here one needs to gently touch the ears, legs, belly, etc. and needs to close monitor the response of the pup. The responses of the pup will be one of the below: enjoy it, tries to get away from the tester or even tries to bite the tester.

Note: An important point to bear in mind is that puppy biting is normal puppy behavior, it is a puppy’s way of investigating their environment. This behavior needs to be stopped as it grows with proper training.

d. Puppy picking evaluation

A puppy needs to be picked up interlacing the fingers on its belly with the tester or pet pal´s palms facing up. Post which it needs to be lifted in the air for about 30 seconds. If the puppy squirms and wants to be put down, he has a more dominant and independent behavior. If it’s quite content to be held in this way, it is showing more submissive behavior and there all chances that the pup might start licking the tester.

e. Observe how the puppy approaches people and other littermates 

This observation test helps to not only check the puppy´s temperament but will also help in building a great bond with the tiny paw. 

A puppy that approaches other people and his littermates with an upright posture and perky ears are dominant in nature. On the other hand, one that walks with its head lowered and ears leaning back are submissive in nature.

If the puppy is glued towards the human, it may be insecure. If it shies away, it may have a fearful personality. A puppy that completely ignores humans is independent and one that explores the room but comes back to the tester is confident.

f. Clap hands 

The goal of this workout is to observe the puppy’s response to sudden noises. Its response with interest, fear, aggression, or indifference will aid in judging its temperament. A good alternative to test this response is to throw the keys on the ground. Most puppies tend to jump back initially, but confident ones will quickly come over to investigate the new object.

g. Puppy and food test 

Here one needs to pet the puppy while it is eating, later they need to take the puppy’s food away as it eats and the puppy away. If the puppy tries to play a tug-of-war with the dish or tries to crowd the hand of the tester out of the bowl, it is more dominant. If the puppy willingly relents, it is more submissive. 

In some cases, the puppy is seen to react aggressively this is a food aggression issue that is predominantly termed as “resource guarding.” This is a serious issue that needs to be corrected in the puppy stage itself.

Note: If the puppy is large enough to injure the tester, one is advised to use a broom handle or other long object to push the food away. It is strictly not advised to check this temperament test with adults in bare hands.

Final thoughts

This temperament testing technique guide will help first-time dog owners in choosing a puppy and will help pet parents to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their pets. Happy parenting folks!!!



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Yeshwanthi Kamalraj
Yeshwanthi Kamalraj is a freelance copy editor, Pet sitter, and content writer who mainly focuses on scientific journals and health-related web pages. Before becoming a freelance content writer Yeshwanthi worked for Cenveo publishers as document analyst for various science journals published by Taylor and Francis Journals and later continued as a freelance copyeditor for the same publishers. Post marriage in 2009 Yeshwanthi developed a keen interest in pets after her husband and she brought a labrador puppy home. This interest helped her to explore a new niche of the pet sitting world whose journey is still on. Yeshwanthi is a dog lover who in her freetime enjoys listening to music, cooking, and meeting new people.


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