Chapter 6
How To Temperament Test For Your Best Dog

How to Choose an Adult Dog

Choosing an adult dog requires a completely different approach from selecting a puppy. When you evaluate an adult dog you can see exactly what you're getting. Puppies are full of potential while adult dogs have generally matured into their lifelong physical and behavioral characteristics. When selecting an adult dog, you should be alert for several factors. First, evaluate available information about the dog. Is information available about how the dog interacts with other dogs? Is it good with kids? Evaluate the available information first to determine whether the dog might be a good fit with your household or whether you'll need to provide extensive training, socialization and desensitization exercises to overcome problematic personality traits.

Temperament Testing an Adult Dog

If the dog looks good on paper and has the right physical characteristics, it's time to evaluate his temperament. You can perform a few simple tests and observations to get an idea of your new dog's temperament and determine whether he's an appropriate addition to your household or whether you should keep looking. Meeting the Dog. Dogs interpret body language differently than humans do. When you're starting to evaluate a dog, avoid making direct eye contact, leaning over the dog or putting yourself in the dog's space. Chat with the rescue worker, breeder or companion while the dog familiarizes himself with your scent and gets used to having you nearby. Watch his behavior as you casually ignore him. Does he seem interested and excited about meeting you, or is he cowering fearfully in a corner? Good behaviors include tail wagging, a willingness to approach you or sniff you, cocking the head and listening when you say his name, or an investigative demeanor if you make a clicking noise, put your car keys on the floor or offer other unusual items for his perusal. Dogs that stay away from you, hold themselves stiffly, hold their tails between their legs, or start or cower when you make noises or bring out car keys are probably poorly socialized, and many have behavioral and temperament problems. These dogs aren't 'bad' dogs; they may simply require more training to overcome these issues and build confidence. If you're not able to commit to this training, continue looking until you find a dog with more confidence that is more outgoing at your first meeting. Walking the Dog on Leash. If the dog displays the right behaviors when you meet him for the first time, then the next step is to take him for a walk on a leash. Is he interested in the things around you, or does he seem fearful at unfamiliar noises and stimuli? Does he display calm, confident body language or is he walking in a crouch or with his tail between his legs? When you walk a dog you want a dog that is confident and curious. Pulling on the leash isn't a bad sign; it just means that you'll need to spend some time training your dog to establish good leash-walking habits. Cowering on leash, on the other hand, can indicate behavioral or temperament problems that require extensive training to overcome. When you walk past or approach people or other dogs, an ideal dog will be friendly or indifferent. Dogs that ignore other dogs and people are fine. Dogs that are friendly and curious about other people and other dogs are good. Dogs that seem fearful or try to avoid other people and dogs may be shy and could react out of fear-aggression unexpectedly. These dogs will require more work training. Another behavior to watch for during your walk is whether the dog tries to chase everything that moves. A dog that chases constantly may have a high prey drive. These dogs may not be appropriate in households with other animals or children. Handling the Dog. When handling a new dog, be very careful about the type and degree of handling in which you engage. In handling a dog, a fearful or aggressive dog may interpret your handling as a threat and may react aggressively and try to bite you. Take all handling exercises slowly and cautiously, and if the dog displays any warning signs, back off! Start by moving close enough to the dog to stand partially over him. This is a behavior that dogs interpret as asserting dominance. Some dogs may attempt to back up or stiffen when you're standing in this position. If a dog does not respond to you dominating gesture, reach out and pet the dog on the shoulders. If the dog accepts this, try petting the dog on his the head. If at any point the dog backs away or acts fearful, move away and try the exercise again in a few minutes. Some dogs simply take time to warm up to strangers and may react positively if you give the dog time to adjust. If the dog doesn't react negatively to this handling, ask the breeder, rescue group member or whoever is responsible for the dog if it is sensitive about being handled in any particular body area. Some dogs become fearful or aggressive if you handle their ears, feet, tail, stomach, teeth or other 'vulnerable' areas. If your contact indicates that it's ok to handle the dog, slowly work your way through these sensitive areas. Rub the dog's ears, run your hands down his legs to his feet, and explore the other sensitive areas. Go slowly and use a light touch. You're not trying to cause discomfort but are checking to see if the dog will accept your handling. If at any point the dog pulls away or begins to growl stop the exercise. Evaluated whether you should give the dog a break and try again later or stop the handling exercise. A dog may shrink away from unfamiliar handling but may let you continue if you reassure him in a calm, easy voice. If the dog continues to pull away or 'grumbles' about being handled, he may not be a good candidate for your pet. He may require advanced training and desensitization to learn to accept this type of handling and is not a good choice for a household with children.