The adventures of SD Juno and SDIT Kaline (and their human, Colt).

09 June 2012

Puppy evaluations and grading

The pups are supposed to get evaluated (temperament) and graded (physical conformation) today or perhaps tomorrow. The testing is super important, at least to me, in ensuring I have the best service dog candidate of the bunch.

The temperament test will likely be the Volhard Test, or something similar. There are ten parts to the test, and they are as follows (from

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

Puppies are evaluated on a scale of 1-6. What kind of scores are “good” depends on what kind of dog you're looking for, and what you hope to do with the dog. For service work, you want a dog who scores mostly 3's, and who does well especially on the retrieval test. You also want a dog who, when startled, recovers quickly and heads off to investigate whatever scared him. (You don't want a dog who either cowers and never recovers from the startling, or a puppy who doesn't startle at all and just pounces on the thing.)

The tester is not the breeder, but an independent third party. The important part is that the person is someone the puppies don't know (obviously they'd be pretty willing to follow the breeder, etc.) The puppies are also tested individually, not together.

A “mostly 3's” puppy is friendly but not over-the-top, cuddly and not bitey, startles but recovers, is curious but not overly assertive. Basically a chill, middle-of-the-road pup who will probably be able to adapt quickly to new situations, and who enjoys working with people. Obviously Doberman puppies are not what most people would ever call “chill,” but a “mostly 3's” puppy will (I fervently hope!) learn to settle down readily. A big part of being a service dog, other than learning tasks, is going to distracting places and still managing to chill out or even sleep. The vast majority of dogs are not born able to do that, but a “mostly 3's” puppy will be a lot more able to learn than a big-time high-drive pup, or one who is scared by everything.

I expect that most of the pups will be in the 3 range—Gatehouse is known for producing smart dogs with solid temperaments. But one of those puppies is really going to stand out as a (relatively) calm, confident guy—and that'll be Kaline!

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