Archive for the ‘Temperament Test/Behavior Evaluation’ Category

How to Choose a Great Dog (The Checklist)

April 20, 2010

Note to dog enthusiasts who use this to find their new best friend, please send me an email to let me know how it worked out for you!  Thanks, David

A great dog is the one that’s great for YOU and YOUR LIFESTYLE.  I recently brought home a wonderful 8-month old dog from a shelter.  Was it luck?  Not really.  I knew exactly what I was looking for.  After using Petfinder and talking to a lot of friends and rescue workers, I evaluated several dogs that looked like good candidates.  Using my “Choose a Great Dog Checklist,” I was able to identify the characteristics I was looking for.  Today I’d like to share my method so you can have the same success when you’re looking for your next dog.

The Myth: Most dogs are the same.  We all know the obvious differences like size, energy level, and shed vs non-shed, but other than that, a dog is a dog.  Whether or not my dog turns out to be great for me is mostly luck of the draw. I’ll find out whether I was lucky or not once I get home with him and we spend a few weeks together.

The Real Deal: Not only are breed types very different, but within every breed type, individual dog personalities are VERY different.  You CAN figure out what kind of dog you’re getting before you bring her home!  Follow my “Choose a Great Dog Checklist,” and spend time getting to know the dog you are considering.  You will greatly increase your chances of finding a dog that is an excellent match for your life.

Again, before we start, remember the best dog is the one that matches up well with your personality and your lifestyle.  Here’s how you find him.

The Overview:

1. Define exactly what you want in your ideal dog.

2. Define exactly what type of dog fits well into your current lifestyle (consider your living space, schedule, activity level, ability to be a leader, and more.).  Be realistic.

3. Write out your answers to both points above.  Yes, write it out.  No, you cannot skip this step.

4. Print the  “Choose a Great Dog Checklist” below.  Bring it with you to meet your two most important sources of information: 1) the dog, 2) and the person who knows the dog best (the current caretaker for the dog).

5. Use the checklist to evaluate the dog you are considering.  Interact with the dog in every way listed.  If needed, take notes on what you see.

6.  Now go over every item on the checklist with the person who knows the dog best (rescue worker, breeder).  Listen to their experiences and opinion.  Take notes if needed.

7. Trust your own impression just as much as that of the rescue worker, breeder, or current caretaker.

8. Take your time and be honest with yourself about the results of your evaluation.

9. Make a choice.  Wait a sec.  Take a deep breath.  Now, look at numbers 1 through 8 again carefully.  Okay, now make a choice.

(By the way, your choice could be to wait until you meet another dog.  That’s a perfectly smart choice.  There are a lot of great dogs out there.  More than you could ever imagine.)

The Choose a Great Dog Checklist (Print the Checklist)

Each item below will give you a characteristic to evaluate, then a listing of example responses to help you “see” the different reactions the dog is displaying.  (The entire range of possible responses is not listed.)  Two things to remember: 1) If you are uncertain of a dog’s response to being touched/examined/hugged, or to being disturbed while eating or playing – do NOT perform those components without the aid of a professional (the rescue worker or breeder should be able to help); and 2) If you are unsure how to interpret the behaviors you are seeing in the dog, hire an experienced, impartial, dog professional to assist you in your evaluation and decision-making.  Trust me, it’s worth it.

And… trust your gut, on everything.

Okay, here we go.  Let’s have some fun and get to know some canines.  Look at your candidate dog in all of the following categories:

1. Interest in people (you). Reaction to strangers. Friendly, shy, disinterested, scared, aggressive?

2. Style of approach to you, then others. Respectful, gentle, fearful, jumper, physical, threatening?

3. Response to petting and touch. Loves it, wants more, could care less, doesn’t like?

4. If safe, give the dog a hug. Then try restraining the dog in your arms.  Tolerant, not tolerant, fusses then relaxes?

5. Response to body examination. Tolerant, not tolerant, fusses then relaxes, threatens you?

  • Lift gums, look at teeth, open jaws
  • Look in ears
  • Lift, squeeze paws
  • Lift, squeeze tail

 

Let's See How Hazel Responds to a Gentle Paw Squeeze. Good Girl, What a Sweetie!

6. Play drive. Chases a toy, grabs the toy, no response to toy, knows how to fetch, response to squeaker?

7. Mouth control and bite pressure. Bites your hands/clothes, allows you to open mouth easily, bites hard, bites soft, takes treats gently, takes treats hard, has no care for where her mouth goes, controls her mouth precisely?

Holding a Toy Over Hazel's Head to Test Play Drive and Mouth Control. She's Waiting Patiently.


8. Possessiveness/Resource guarding. Relaxed about the removal of food and toys from his possession, shows signs of anxiety or aggression if food or toys are approached or touched? Signs of possessiveness may be subtle.  These include: Tenses up, direct stare, turns/runs away, growls, shows teeth, snaps, eats faster, escalates intensity.  Non-possessive dogs will be indifferent, relaxed, have a loose body and facial expression.

How Does Hazel Respond to Me Putting My Hand on Her Kong Filled with Cheese? She's Cool as a Cucumber.

9. Response to stern voice/verbal correction. Interrupt an action with your voice.  Stops for a second, stops completely and looks at you, cowers, hides, no response, barks at you, growls at you?

10. Sensitivity to noise. Drop your clipboard on a hard surface or bang a food bowl.  Stops for a second, stops completely and looks at you, cowers, hides, no response, barks at you, growls at you?

11. Reaction to you running. Run away from the dog to invite chase.  Chases you, grabs you, jumps on you, barks at you, ignores you?

12. Interaction with children. If you have any, bring them.  If not, try to see the dog with other children.  Respectful, gentle, fearful, jumper, physical, threatening, mouthy?

13. Dog to dog interactions. See 3 different types of dogs if you can.  Social, non-social, friendly, knows how to greet politely, does not know how to greet, knows how to play, does not know how to play?

14. Dog to cat interactions. This is a tough one that is not always available.  I would still ask and find out as much as you can, especially if you have cats.  Respectful, gentle, fearful, chasing, grabbing, injuring, obsessed, can’t distract?

15. Walking on leash/outdoors

  • Pulls you or lags behind/stops?
  • Pays attention to you or you don’t exist?
  • Response to other people?
  • Response to other dogs/animals?
  • Response to environmental stimuli such as cars, loud noises?

16. Housetrained/crate trained.  History of going potty in the owner’s chosen place?  History of accidents in the wrong places? Any involuntary urination such as submissive or excitement peeing? Response to being separated in their own area such as crate, pen, or separate room?

17. Response to separation. History of response to being left alone in the home?  What happens when someone leaves the room?  Has there ever been any separation from littermates or other dog she may have been boarding/living with?  (If not, initial transitions are tough, be prepared to work on this.)

18. Vocalizations.  By the time you’ve done all of the above, you should have an idea of this.  What kinds of vocalizations did you hear in your evaluation.  As always, you will also ask the person who knows the dog best in order to learn about other situations where vocalizations may occur.  Barker, whiner, howler, bayer?  Loud or soft?  High-pitched or low-pitched?  What triggers these vocalizations?  Attention-seeking barking?  Excitement barking?  Territorial?  Separation? Etc.

(Print the Checklist)

Okay, so now you have a MUCH better idea of the kind of dog you are considering.  How does it match up with the ideal you defined for your personality and lifestyle?  Most people are willing to accept or work on a few of the items that don’t match up with their ideal.  Some characteristics, on the other hand, are deal breakers.  For example, a resource guarding dog is not a fit in a house with young children.  A very barky dog is a tough fit in a city apartment.  Don’t be a fool when it comes to those deal-breaking factors.  But, for a great all-around dog, you may want to compromise on a few of your ideal characteristics.  After all nobody’s perfect.  Least of all us humans.

Note to dog enthusiasts who use this to find their new best friend, please send me an email to let me know how it worked out for you!  Thanks, David

~

In a future post, I’ll cover more on the special considerations for young puppies and also other resources for behavior evaluations.  In the meantime, if you are finding the above guidelines helpful, check out this story as well: I’ll Take a Large Pie, Two Orders of Fries, and a Dog

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Sunshine on a Rainy Day (Hazel’s Story Part 3)

April 17, 2010

It’s dawn.  I hear the sweet sound of a Cardinal singing outside our window.  My heart leaps before my eyes even open.  A smile crosses my face as I remember.  For a few seconds I work on going back to sleep – slow, deep breaths – I want the sleeeeep, neeeed the sleeeep.  But I’m not going back to sleep.  I’m way too excited.  Every day is a gift but today is one of the special ones.  That way-too-cool-to-be-true-pointer-mix I’ve been telling you about, she’s gonna become a member of our family today.  The one who takes a treat from my child’s fingers as gently as a butterfly lands on a flower.  Her name is Hazel.

Somehow the man who had her on hold, who had the first option to take her before me – his wife opted out when the decision was on the line.  She brought the grandkids and everyone to meet the dog.  And they liked her a lot, saw how sweet she was and were keen on her smallish size.

Then the resident cat came out from behind a desk.  They saw our little pointer get a little too perky then.  I’ll tell you what they saw.  They saw a wild child kick in.  They saw her chase that kitty around the room in sporting-dog style, zig-zagging with moves like Michael Jordan gliding through an entire defense.  They must’ve imagined their own cats trying to stop Jordan.  They could hear Marv Albert calling the game in their heads, “Oh!  Slam dunk!  Michael Jordan is on FIRE!  OH!  Look at the moves, slicing through defenders with ease!  Oh!  MJ’s TOO-TOUGH-to-STOP!”

The wife started to look worried, nibbled her fingers, talked about her cats, voiced doubts, looked at the pointer pouncing around the room, and then back at her husband, “So you definitely haven’t found anyone with a Shih Tzu?”

That’s when the shelter manager dropped the guillotine, “I don’t think this is the dog for you,” she said, and sent them on their way.  I love that cat.

Let me tell you what I saw when I later watched Hazel interact with the cat.  I saw a super-playful adolescent with a lot of self control.  First she invited the cat to play, with lovely play-bows (butt in the air, front end down), with adorable side-shimmies, and with an excited bark that was low-pitched and not too loud (oh, so acceptable).  When she did chase the cat she always stopped a foot or two away from it, she never touched it.  I let Hazel keep going, wanted to see her get worked up.  Then came the best part.   As she was dancing around the cat, percolating in the predator game, I made myself heard.  “Hazel STOP.  Get over here.” I said firmly but not loud.  She ran right over to me and sat at my side.  Too good to be true.  I tested it again.  “Ok, go play with the cat,” I said.  She got back into it quickly.  Ran right to the spot she left off and started her predator play dance again.  Then I called her.  And again she came right away.  Just lovely.

Here is a video of how I began bonding with Hazel when we got home.  Play is the name of the game.  Look at how respectful she is of my space.

The people who had the first shot at this dog saw a feisty hunter getting wild over a cat.  I saw a playful 8-month-old with a lot of impulse control.  To each their own.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And we all see differently.  It’s what makes life interesting.  I’m so grateful this dog lasted two weeks without anyone seeing what the shelter manager and I saw in her.

Now it seems kind of crazy for me to put it out there, to say I found a wonderful dog, a great fit,  just by spending a couple of half-hour sessions with her over two days.  Especially crazy to put it in writing here.  I mean, I could be wrong.  I could be eating my words right here on this blog in a few months if this dog turns out to reveal traits I’ve overlooked, or couldn’t see.  It’s quite possible, I assure you.  She’s certainly not going to be perfect.  There will be issues, of course.  For example she pulls on leash like a bat out of hell.  And she’s REALLY distracted outside.

But I feel as good as you can feel about our decision to adopt Hazel because I defined exactly what I wanted before going into this.  Then I did a thorough behavior evaluation.  Comp – re – hensive.  That’s how I roll (most of the time, anyway).  Is it dorky or cool to show up at the shelter with a clipboard and a checklist?  I say cool.  There is no place for self-consciousness in big life decisions.  I followed my behavior eval checklist with pride.  In the next post I’ll tell you exactly what I did to evaluate Hazel.  I know it will help you and many others to find a great match next time you are looking for a dog.

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Heart Strings (Hazel’s Story Part 2)

April 16, 2010

So you know I sped off to the shelter yesterday and was greeted at the office door by the wonderful, slow-wagging pointer mix that the rescue manager had told me was ideal for my family.  I immediately adored her.  She was confident and friendly but totally under control in her approach.  She was MUCH prettier than the picture on Petfinder.  White with adorable brown spots flecked all over her sweet pointy muzzle and down her back.  A perfect 35 pounds, in great shape.  Her eyes were a golden green.  Really.  I liked her vibe.  A lot.  I sat on the floor, picked up a toy, and started playing with her.  Then I asked lots of questions to the staff.

“Does she bark?” I asked.

“Nope,” said the shelter manager.

I grabbed her muzzle gently and lifted her lips to see how she’d respond to me checking her teeth.  No pushback whatsoever.

“Does she guard anything – food, toys?” I asked.

“Nooooo.” the manager said (with an implied “of course not – don’t insult her.”)

I tugged on the toy in the dog’s mouth, we were both having fun with the game.  Then she let me take it from between her teeth with ease.  When I held up the toy in my hand she quickly sat and waited as if asking me “would you please throw that again?”

“Does she have any separation issues when you guys leave?” I asked the manager.

“She whines at the door when one of us leaves the room.”

“How long is the whining for?”

“Two minutes,” the manager answered nonchalantly, daring me to try and find something wrong with this beautiful dog.

“If you had to name any complaints about her, what would you say?” I asked with raised eyebrows.

“Complaints?”  There were a few seconds of silence as all three of the office workers looked at each other, thinking I was a nut.  “We don’t have a single bad thing to say about her,” the manager said, with a hint of disappointment that I didn’t already trust what she told me on the phone – that this dog was “phenomenal.”

Now I was sitting on the floor petting the sweet dog, really starting to fall in love with the idea of her joining my family.

Then I asked, “What is your policy on holding a dog?  I need to talk to my wife about when she can come over and meet her.”

“Someone already has a hold on her,” the manager replied.

My heart sunk in my chest.

“Oh…  … why didn’t you tell me that before I fell in love with her?” I sighed.

“Sorry, a guy came in this morning and he asked me to hold her so HIS wife can come meet her.  You’re second if they don’t want her.”

I didn’t hide my disappointment.  I took a few deep breaths as I continued playing with the dog.  I quickly began the process of reeling back the invisible tendrils of attachment that had already started to reach out from my heart and hug this dog into my life.  Sitting on the floor, I had my face right in front of her nose, eye-to-eye.

“She’ll give you a kiss if you ask for it,” the manager said.

“No, I can’t handle a kiss right now, that’ll only make me fall deeper in love with her.”

I stood up and half-jokingly told the manager to talk the other guy and his wife out of adopting this precious dog.  Then I gave her all my info and said to update me as soon as she knows.

I’ve checked back twice since then.  No definitive answer yet.  I’m still waiting…

Read Hazel’s Story, Part 3

Dogs Cast a Spell on Us (Hazel’s Story Part 1)

April 15, 2010

There is real evidence to support that dogs truly do have a natural power to connect with humans, draw them in, create a bond. But the science of that is for another day. I’m running out the door to visit a shelter. I just hung up with a woman there who told me she has a dog that could be a great fit for my family. A medium-small yellow lab-pointer mix with a super sweet disposition.  A persona that might fit right in with my 20-month old son.  The description SOUNDS great but I have to see her and do my own eval.  Which I will right after I speed over there in my car.  This is one of the very first rescue dogs I am looking at.  I should be very practical and calm right now, but I’m not.  I’m excited, wide-eyed, and hopeful.  A pro trainer shouldn’t be this vulnerable.  But I’m human.

Read Hazel’s Story, Part 2

I’ll Take A Large Pie, Two Orders of Fries, and a Dog

April 13, 2010

This article about ordering puppies over the Internet can now be found at the CATCH Canine Trainers Academy blog!  Click here to read.

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